The countdown for World Cup Russia begins today in Düsseldorf, where Spain take on Germany - a clash between two of the heavyweights of the European game. It’s a meeting between the last two nations to have lifted the trophy, and for us, a new test against one of the national teams who we have traditionally struggled against with a balance of W7-D6-L9. In terms of goals, Germany also have the edge with an overall balance of 23-28. So the stats are quite clear about who has dominated these meetings. Spain have only won on German soil once – 83 years ago in Cologne, in the very first meeting between the two countries which ended 1-2, with Isidro Lángara, the player with the best strike ratio in our history, scoring both goals. Lángara was a powerful, Basque centre-forward who made a name for himself at Oviedo and in Argentina, where he remained exiled after the Civil War. Today, 80 years later, we have a fantastic national team, but we don’t have a goal scorer quite like him.
Lopetegui unbeaten at the helm
On a positive note, we can take solace from the fact that Julen Lopetegui has yet to lose a game during his time in charge of the national team. He had tweaked the side without making wholesale changes; he has managed to restore confidence and make the players recover the belief they lost on that fateful afternoon in Bahia against Holland – something which Del Bosque tried to do in vain after the last World Cup. Now, the team is looking as reliable as it was back in its heyday – with the same kind of reliability which Germany is renowned for – whether it be for manufacturing cars, washing machines or football teams. And maybe we can even surmise that during the past few years they have borrowed a few things off us, toning down their aggressive style of play with their own take on the tiki-taka, passing model.
Ramos closing in on Casillas' record
We don’t have any clues about the starting line-up but we can guess that Sergio Ramos will play and make his 150th appearance at full international level. That is a breathtaking figure for an outfield player to achieve. Casillas holds the record with 167 caps, so it could be said that Sergio Ramos has it within his sights. If Spain go far at the World Cup he will get close to it. It’s the sign of the staying power of a great player, only made possible for his consistency, resistance to injury and Spain’s successes over the past few years which has ensured that the core of the side has remained intact. Tonight’s test is a serious one though – both for Ramos and for everyone else. But I am all in favor of that. We will be going to the World Cup with hopes high and it will be a good thing to know as soon as possible why that should be the case.