Lithuania win over Czechs is Scotland's best hope

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland in La Manga
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque looks at playmaker Xavi
Only Switzerland have beaten del Bosque's Spain in competitive games since 2006

One competitive defeat since October 2006 is their record and, even with that loss to Switzerland at last year's World Cup finals, they went on to win the tournament.

Just how do you defeat Spain, one of the best international sides ever seen, if not the best?

The best place to start is with Ottmar Hitzfeld, given the German was the man who guided the Swiss to that stunning win in Durban last June.

"If you want to play an attacking game against Spain, you will lose by a big margin," he said after their clash.

"Our aim was to have two compact lines behind our strikers. We didn't want to lose too much energy fighting for the ball.

"We concentrated and were organised from the start."

And that is how to beat Spain.

What Hitzfeld didn't mention was the luck factor, something the Scots had in abundance in the two games against France in the last European campaign.

Hitzfeld's tips look straightforward on paper, but as skipper Darren Fletcher admitted at the pre-match media conference at their La Manga training base, this is the hardest game Scotland will ever have faced.

He's right, certainly in the modern era.

The wins over the French in 2006 and 2007 were fantastic for the Scottish nation, but that was an international team on the wane.

This Spain side are at the peak of their awesome powers.

Chelsea striker Juan Mata
Mata has looked the part since moving to Chelsea

And any thoughts of the Spanish easing off can be abolished immediately as they look to complete a second successive 100% qualification record.

They have injury doubts, such as midfielder Xabi Alonso, with defender Raul Albiol joining Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta on the sidelines.


But, no matter what team he puts out at the Rico Perez Stadium in Alicante, it will be a fearsome line-up.

Chelsea's Juan Mata got his big move and looks a different proposition to the player who faced Rangers in the Champions League with Valencia a year ago.

The 23-year-old scored the first against the Czechs and will be familiar to Scotland's Graham Dorrans given they - and Gerard Pique - clashed in the final of the Under-19 European Championship final in 2006 as the Scots went down 2-1.

Del Bosque religiously puts his team out in a flowing 4-1-4-1 formation, though it is more like a Barca-esque 4-1-2-3 with David Silva and Mata supporting the main striker.

Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo could be in the coach's thoughts if he decides to rest Fernando Torres or record-scorer David Villa.

Del Bosque may be tempted to give some fringe players a chance, with Valencia's appropriately named - for this game at least - Jordi Alba in the squad for the first time.

Barca's Thiago and Bilbao's Javi Martinez are others in his thoughts.

Out of the four games that closed out Group I, there's an argument that says the Scots' match here is the least important of the four, given who they face.

In all likelihood, what happens in Kaunas will be what decides Scotland's fate.

The scoreline - Czech Republic 0-1 Lithuania - from last September in Olomouc is something from which the Scottish fans can draw inspiration.

That was a game the Czechs began reasonably well, but once they were stung by the match-winner from Darvydas Sernas in the first half, their heads went down.

Something similar will be needed, but as poor as Lithuania are, and they have proved it since that night, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they will beat the flakey Czechs.

On paper, a play-off place is in Scotland's hands. Everywhere else, it's in Lithuania's.

It is verging on incomprehensible, the size of the task facing the Scotland team here in Spain this week.