World champions Spain play their first competitive match since lifting football's ultimate prize when they face minnows Liechtenstein in Vaduz on Friday in their first qualifying match for UEFA EURO 2012.
Spain are bidding to become the first team to retain the European title having won EURO 2008 and hope for a qualification similar to that of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ when they won all ten matches. Vicente del Bosque's side, listed number one in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, are overwhelming favourites to top Group One ahead of the Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein.
The first task for Spain is a trip to Liechtenstein, a principality with a population of 35,000 that is ranked 141 in the world pecking order and has never qualified for a major finals. Spain may not be at their best with just one game gone in the domestic season but Liechtenstein are expected to be a walkover.
"It would be a mistake to think that everything is going to be easy for us because we are world champions," said Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos. "We have to start from scratch because football doesn't have a memory."
Villa gunning for Spanish record
The game could be a special one for new Barcelona striker David Villa who needs just one goal to equal Raul's all-time national record of 44 goals. Raul, formerly of Real Madrid and now at German side Schalke, scored his 44 goals in 102 games while Villa has a much better strike-rate scoring 43 times in just 65 internationals.
Villa, 28, is on form after five goals at South Africa 2010 and a debut goal for new club Barcelona and minnows Liechtenstein offer him a golden opportunity to match or better Raul's landmark. Whether Villa will play up front on his own against Liechtenstein is unclear as manager Del Bosque deliberates on whether to use Liverpool forward Fernando Torres.
Liverpool coach Roy Hodgson has urged Spain not to play Torres as he continues to regain match sharpness following a knee injury that hindered him at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, however, Del Bosque has so far refused to rule out using the former Atletico Madrid forward in some capacity.
Spain must do without Barcelona defender Carles Puyol who is out for three weeks with a thigh injury sustained in his team's 3-0 win over Racing Santander on Sunday. Barcelona team-mate Xavi also picked up a knock in the Racing game forcing the midfielder to be substituted and is a doubt for the Liechtenstein match. Del Bosque has also allowed Valencia's Juan Mata and Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez to drop down to help the Under-21 squad claiming he wants to prevent them from suffering burnout.
Spain face Liechtenstein on Friday before a more glamorous friendly game against Argentina in Buenos Aires next Tuesday but Barcelona midfielder Sergi Busquets was quick to point out which game had the priority. "The friendly game against Argentina is something to look forward to, however, the first game is Liechtenstein and that is the important one," said Busquets. "We want to start the qualification campaign off on the right foot."