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Misfiring Spain begin Euro defence against Macedonia

By Reuters - Sep 07,2014 - Last updated at Sep 07,2014

MADRID — Coach Vicente del Bosque must cope with the absence of first-choice striker Diego Costa and try to reverse Spain’s recent inability to find the net when they host Macedonia in Monday’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier.

Costa, who played 66 minutes of Thursday’s 1-0 friendly defeat to France, was forced to abandon the European champions’ squad on Friday with a thigh injury and Del Bosque sprung a surprise by replacing the Chelsea forward with Barcelona teenager Munir el Haddadi.

An Under-21 international who turned 19 on Monday, Munir is of Moroccan origin and only made his debut for Barcelona in their opening La Liga match at home to Elche last month, scoring in a 3-0 win.

A skilful left-footer who has something of the Lionel Messi about him and looks a bit like Neymar, Munir’s call-up prompted claims in the Spanish media that Del Bosque had selected him so he would be tied to Spain and cannot play for Morocco.

With Costa out, Del Bosque has only three recognised forwards in Munir, Barcelona teammate Pedro and Paco Alcacer of Valencia, who won his first Spain cap as a substitute in the France game.

Spain failed to muster a shot on target at the Stade de France, with local media reporting it was the first time that had happened since 1990, and Del Bosque said after the game his tactics would be more attacking against the Macedonians.

“Next Monday we will focus more on offence and we will try to get the three points,” he told a news conference.

Spain, who won consecutive European titles in 2008 and 2012, are desperate to return to winning ways after a woeful World Cup when their title defence foundered in the group stage with defeats to the Netherlands and Chile.

For all the talk of a fresh start, there will be a host of familiar faces in the team at Levante’s Ciutat de Valencia stadium on Monday.

Midfield stalwarts Xavi and Xabi Alonso may have gone, retiring after the finals in Brazil, but the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Santi Cazorla are still an integral part of Del Bosque’s plans.

Captain Iker Casillas remains first-choice goalkeeper and is likely to have the familiar sight of Real Madrid teammate Sergio Ramos and Napoli’s Raul Albiol in front of him in central defence, with Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta playing and left and right back respectively.

Silva defended Spain’s possession-based playing style, saying it had worked well in the past and there was no reason to change.

“We have won a lot playing in that way... and many of us are used to it,” the Manchester City midfielder told a news conference at Spain’s training base in Madrid on Saturday.

“I believe we should stick with it. Some very important players have left but those of us here are important too and the new players will be as well.”

Euro 2016 qualification Group C also includes Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

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