Spain's Martinez wary of Belarus banana skin
MADRID (Reuters) - Javi Martinez is still smarting from a shock reverse in Minsk and the Spain midfielder is keen to avoid a repeat performance when the world and European champions take on Belarus in a World Cup 2014 qualifier there on Friday.
Martinez's Bundesliga club Bayern Munich crashed to a 3-1 defeat at BATE Borisov in the Champions League last week and the Belarussian champions are likely to provide six of the starting lineup for Friday's Group I clash.
The Belarus soccer association (BFF) has more than trebled their players' win bonus to $10,000 but Martinez says Spain will be well prepared as they seek to make it two Group I wins out of two following last month's 1-0 win away to Georgia.
"Because they have so many BATE players in the squad probably they will play in a similar way," Martinez said at a news conference as he and his team mates gathered at their training camp outside Madrid.
"BATE are a team that look to play on the counter attack, they are physically very strong and they don't give you many scoring chances," he added.
"We have a few days now before the match to study how they play and for sure the coach will put us properly in the picture."
Spain's victory in Georgia extended their winning streak in European Championship and World Cup qualifiers to 23 matches and they last failed to win in a 1-1 draw with Iceland in Reykjavik in September 2007.
They went on to become the first team to win back-to-back European Championships with a World Cup in between and will be firm favourites to retain their world title in Brazil in two years' time.
They host Group I rivals France in Madrid on Tuesday in a match that could go a long way to deciding who progresses to the finals as group winners.
"Spain is the team to beat right now," said Martinez, who may be drafted in at centre back in the absence of injured Barcelona pair Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.
"The fact we are world champions is an extra motivation for our opponents and it must be the same for us," he added.
"A big chunk of qualification is at stake and if we win both games it will be an important step."
Despite the incentive of extra cash for beating Spain, Belarus coach Georgy Kondratyev was not too hopeful about his players' chances when he spoke to reporters this week.
"The biggest problem when you face Spain is that it's very difficult, almost impossible, to take the ball away from them," he said.
"But then again, they are reigning world and European champions so even if we lose but go down fighting, no one can blame us for the defeat."
Belarus are bottom of Group I after losing their first two qualifiers to Georgia and France.
Kondratyev is likely to deploy Vitaly Rodionov, who scored BATE's second against Bayern as a lone striker on Friday, with attacking midfielders Alexander Hleb and Brazil-born Renan Bressan, who also play for BATE, in support.
Belarus: 12-Sergei Veremko; 16-Denis Polyakov, 6-Artem Radkov, 3-Alexander Martynovich, 18-Dmitry Verkhovtsov, 19-Maxim Bordachev; 21-Stanislav Dragun, 11-Alexander Hleb, 10-Renan Bressan, 14-Anton Putilo; 20-Vitaly Rodionov
Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 15-Sergio Ramos, 2-Raul Albiol, 18-Jordi Alba; 16-Sergio Busquets, 14-Xabi Alonso; 21-David Silva, 8-Xavi, 6-Andres Iniesta; 9-Fernando Torres
Referee: Serge Gumienny (Belgium)
(Additional reporting by Ruslan Batenkov in Minsk, editing by Mark Meadows)
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