Seven months remain in Europe's World Cup qualifying, but defending champion Spain already finds itself in a deep hole.
Consecutive home draws with France and Finland mean that Spain will fall five points off the lead held by France if it loses to the Bleus Tuesday night at the Stade de France.
With only the winner of each of Europe's nine groups assured of berths in the finals -- and only eight of the nine second-place teams headed to playoffs -- there is not a lot of margin for error, but Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque insisted winning Tuesday's game will not come at the risk of further injuries to midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso, who sat out Friday's 1-1 draw with Finland in Gijon.
“Both are fine," said Del Bosque, "but as I have said, we are not going to risk anyone, and it will be the players who take the final decision."
Del Bosque is confident Spain will get much more room to attack at the Stade de France than it did in Gijon.
"We are not anxious at all," he said. "It is logical to reflect after what has happened in our last two games. Despite dominating completely, we couldn't score more than once, so it is understandable that people will have doubts. But we mustn't get nervous, we must stay calm, open up the field and use the width. We do need to find solutions but this will be a much more open game."
DESCHAMPS PRAISES YOUNGSTERS. France coach Didier Deschamps hasn't been afraid to shake things up in the Bleus' squad.
Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane, 19, and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, 20, got their first starts Friday in France's 3-1 win over Georgia, and they could keep their places in the Bleus' starting lineup against Spain.
"Their youth brings with it enthusiasm and they play with freedom," said Deschamps. "They played for the team. You can't ask the same of a player on his debut as from someone with 50 or 80 caps but I had no fears for them. The quality they'd shown for their clubs or in the training sessions shone through in a competitive environment."
BRNOVIC SLAMS ENGLISH. Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic did not take kindly to the suggestion of former England star Alan Shearer that Montenegro planned to intimidate Wayne Rooney in the hope of getting the England forward to lose his temper and get sent off like he did when he kicked Miodrag Dzudovic the last time the two teams met.
“As far as I know, Rooney was the one who attacked our player last time, not vice versa,” Brnovic said.
The situation in the standings is also different his time. Montenegro heads into the game at Podgorica City Stadium with a two-point lead over England.
"We are the leaders in our group this time," he said. "We're not chasing after anything and we have nothing to prove. This will be quite a spectacle.
URUGUAY DROPS FORLAN. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has dropped Diego Forlan -- winner of the Golden Ball as the 2010 World Cup MVP -- and replaced him with Napoli star Edinson Cavani to partner Luis Suarez up front in the Celeste's key match at Chile on Tuesday.
Uruguay is in the midst of a scoring slump with just three goals -- and two points -- in its last five games to drop to fourth place in the nine-nation South American group. The top four teams go to the World Cup and the fifth-place team faces Asia's No. 5 team in a playoff.
"We need points urgently because we are among several teams fighting for the fourth and fifth place," Tabarez said.
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