Nearly five months after meeting in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final, Spain take on Switzerland again as they vie for supremacy in the race to the 2013 tournament.
Spain were 2-0 winners in Aarhus and although the coaches remain the same, the playing personnel is quite different from that which took to the field on 25 June. Luis Milla's side lead the way in Group 5, having won all four games in the section, but Switzerland are just two points behind and also unbeaten as they visit Cordoba on Monday.
On Thursday both warmed up in decent style. After winning 1-0 in Georgia last month, Pierluigi Tami's Switzerland welcomed the same team to Lugano and prevailed 5-0. Spain were also at home and went one better by securing a 6-0 victory against Estonia. Although Milla says he has attempted "to change the main group as little as possible", the European champions' squad features only five players that travelled to Denmark.
Gone are the likes of Javi Martínez, Juan Mata and Adrián López, who top-scored at the summer finals, while they also have to do without the injured Sergio Canales. Now Milla is asking players such as FC Barcelona forward Isaac Cuenca, Chelsea FC midfielder Oriol Romeu and SL Benfica striker Rodrigo to take up the baton. "I've tried to bring in those who I feel can help out," Milla explained.
On Switzerland, he said:
"It will bring back memories of the summer and will serve to remind everyone that these are two great generations of players. Above all, it is going to be a great show starring top players." The pedigree of Spain's guests on Monday has not escaped the former Barcelona, Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF midfielder. "Switzerland have played well in these qualifiers and the group of players that we face is the generation that won the [FIFA] U-17 World Cup."
One of Switzerland's key performers in that 2009 success, Nassim Ben Khalifa, is excited about the chance of taming the bronze-medal winners in that tournament in Nigeria, Spain. "It's a whole new ball game," said the 19-year-old, an unused substitute against Spain in Aarhus. "It will be a match against different opposition. For both sides, there aren't many players who were there for the 2011 final. That's why there isn't that much talk of revenge."
Indeed, Philippe Koch is the only player in the Swiss starting XI that remains. Patjim Kasami did come on, but Benjamin Siegrist and Fabio Daprelà, like Ben Khalifa, did not make it off the bench. Spain ran out comfortable winners in Denmark, with centre-back Timm Klose saying "their speed simply asked too much of us".
Now, though, the feeling is different in a squad that does not bear those scars, with Tami saying: "Spain are still very strong and deserved that win, but we have shown what we are capable of."
Betraying a glimpse of the self-belief that helped his country lift the world U17 crown two years ago, Ben Khalifa has no fear ahead of playing the holders. "
We are a team that defines itself through fast passing and a creative game. That's why I don't think we have to hide when we play a very creative Spain. We are a young, hungry side and travel to Cordoba to win."
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