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2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying: La Roja haven't lost at this stage in a remarkable 23 years


09-05-2016 15:54 BJT

This evening will feature a packed schedule of qualifying games in Europe. Three of the continent's nine pools will be action. One of the most anticipated matches is Spain hosting Liechtenstein, not for competitive reasons, but because it will be the first game that counts for Las Roja's new coach, Julen Lopetegui. He made his debut last week, in a 2-nil win in a friendly. Damion Jones breaks it down.

Julen Lopetegui took the reins in Spain, when Vicente Del Bosque retired after eight years in charge. The well-traveled former goalkeeper hopes to return La Roja to the heights they enjoyed under his predecessor, and that quest starts by looking to extend a remarkable streak. The Spaniards have not lost a World Cup Qualifier in 23 years, and have no intention of letting Liechtenstein break their stride in Leon.

"It is a special match for the entire team. For me it shows with the entire team, and because it is a qualifier, it is our first opportunity to take three points. We want to show our desire and our strength in this competition. I have not doubt the players will demonstrate this with a lot of enthusiasm in this match," said Julen Lopetegui.

Monday's other matches in Group G feature Israel hosting Italy, and Albania taking on their neighbors from Macedonia, in an all-Balkan clash.

Red Dragons hope to reach main draw for first time since 1958

Renewing a quest to make it back to the World Cup's main draw for the first time since 1958, Wales will host Moldova to highlight the schedule in Group D. The Red Dragons made a run to the Semi-Finals at Euro 2016, and hope to follow up that success by winning their pool, and grabbing an elusive ticket to Russia. But that road runs through Cardiff, and the Welshmen say they're not overlooking any opponents.

"Their record, in terms of wins, is not great, and of course they're lowly in the rankings, but they don't concede, predominantly, they don't concede a lot of goals. They lose one-nil or two-one. They're always in the game. They make it difficult for the opposition. They're very well organised. They're aggressive. They're big. Physical," said Wales manager Chris Coleman.

Serbia will also be looking to get their qualifying campaign off on the right foot with a home match versus Ireland, while Georgia meet Austria.

Cold Islanders determined to build on showing from Euro 2016

Heimir Hallgrimsson is now Iceland's sole head coach, after cohort Lars Lagerback stepped aside following the team's impressive showing at Euro 2016. The Cold Islanders surprised everybody except maybe themselves by reaching the Quarter-Finals in France, and would like to take another step forward with a victory in Ukraine, as play gets underway in Group I. But the bossman says he's keeping things in perspective.

"My biggest dream is to win this game against Ukraine, and if we manage to do that, then my dream will be to win the next game also, so just stay in the moment, and try to do the best in the moment," said Heimir Hallgrimsson.

Other action includes Croatia entertaining Turkey, and Finland serving as the opposition in the first tournament match for FIFA's 210th and newest member, Kosovo.

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