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Camp Focus - Spain - Mata wary of Belarus threat amid Bojan concern

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By David Redshaw

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Consecutive victories over Czech Republic (2-0) and Ukraine (3-0) have dismissed any lingering doubts in the Spanish camp following the opening game with England, when Luis Milla’s team was accused of playing too much football and lacking punch up front. In fact, the mood right now is one of supreme confidence in a system that sees them just one game away from qualification for next year’s Olympic Games.

A semi-final with Belarus in Viborg on Wednesday is one Spain will be expected to win, yet Juan Mata, two-goal hero of the win over Ukraine, thinks his team will encounter a different kind of threat than the one faced so far. The Valencia winger played in a 1-1 friendly draw with Belarus in March and says: “They are in the semi-finals on merit and because they are a team that never gives up until the final whistle. It will be difficult for us as they are very physical and competitive, so it will be a good test of our ability.” Mata also had words for teammate Adrián López, who has now scored three in the last two games: “He was very calm after the first game and knew the goals would come,” said Mata. “He is a very strong forward and it has not surprised me as he is a top-class player.”

Even so, Coach Milla is aware he will be facing a canny adversary in Georgi Kondratyev, who has guided his side into the knockout stages for the first time and has the reputation as a tactician who values meticulous preparation and attention to detail. The Belarusian will almost certainly try to combat Spain’s fluent passing game in midfield by giving each of his players a specific task to adhere to, and while Milla will more than likely employ the team that has been successful so far, he still has Bojan Krkic to call upon should the need arise. The introduction of Iker Muniain for the last two games has seen the Barcelona youngster fall further down the pecking order for a berth in attack, and he has been limited to just 20 minutes football in the three games so far.

Bojan admits he is not happy with the situation, particularly since he was a regular member of the starting XI in the qualifiers and, despite not having had the best of seasons – Pep Guardiola has employed him mainly as a substitute - he has shown in the past he is a player to rise to the big occasion. Milla has already had an explanatory chat with him regarding his role in the squad, yet a proposed move to join former Barcelona B boss Luis Enrique at Roma has probably not helped keep his mind focused on the job at hand.

However, Milla’s young charges know there can be no slip-up with the prize of Olympic qualification and a place in the Euro Under-21 final within their grasp, and the expectation of a nation is firmly on their young shoulders.

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