MADRID With holders Spain poised to secure their berth at next year's World Cup finals, thoughts are already turning to what might happen after the tournament when coach Vicente del Bosque's contract is due to expire.
An avuncular character known for his ability to foster harmony in his hugely talented squad, Del Bosque will be 63 by then and whatever happens in Brazil next year he has already earned his place in the pantheon of soccer's greatest managers.
After taking over from Luis Aragones following Spain's Euro 2008 victory, he led the Iberian nation to their first World Cup triumph in South Africa in 2010 and a second straight continental title in Poland and Ukraine two years later.
As Spain prepare for their qualifiers against Belarus in Palma de Mallorca on Friday and Georgia in Albacete four days later, Del Bosque's record is an outstanding 65 wins from 80 matches, with eight draws and seven defeats, only three of which were in competitive games.
One indication of Spain's success under the former Real Madrid coach is that the three goals Brazil put past them in their 3-0 victory in June's Confederations Cup final was the same number they conceded in all 13 of their games at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Although Del Bosque, who won two Champions League crowns with Real, has hinted he will step down after the World Cup, the Spanish football federation (RFEF) will try to persuade him to stay on for two more years until after Euro 2016, As newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The idea is he will oversee the transition to a new generation of players as the likes of Xavi, Iker Casillas, Fernando Torres and David Villa wind down their glittering international careers, the paper said.
"We have not considered any alternative for the post of national team coach," As quoted RFEF general secretary Jorge Perez as saying.
"Del Bosque will continue with us for as long as he wants and for as many years as he wants," he added.
Victory against last-placed Belarus on Friday would mean unbeaten Spain need a point against Georgia on Tuesday to be certain of top spot in qualification Group I ahead of France.
The French, who snatched a 1-1 draw in Madrid in October last year before losing to their southern neighbours 1-0 in Paris in March, play their final game against third-placed Finland at the Stade de France on October 15.
With a number of regulars injured, Del Bosque has brought in two new faces for the Belarus and Georgia matches.
Swansea City forward Michu replaced record scorer Villa of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla left back Alberto Moreno has come in for Barcelona's Jordi Alba.
"For any footballer, playing for the national team is as good as it gets, it's the biggest achievement of my career," Michu told a news conference on Wednesday.
"I was a bit nervous coming here but once you get on to the pitch everything is much easier," he added.
"Right now I am just enjoying the training sessions. For me it's a gift being here with some of the world's best players and I am ready to play wherever the coach sees fit."
Belarus, who have four points from their seven matches, one behind Georgia, are not planning to use ultra-defensive tactics despite their illustrious opposition, according to their coach Georgi Kondratyev.
"We are going to try not going on the defensive, not to 'park the bus', as they say," Kondratyev was quoted as saying on the Spanish team website (www.sefutbol.com) this week.
"We will try to play our game based on rapid counter attacks," he added.
"We will try to play like we did against France, which was a 3-4-3 formation, not 4-5-1 as some said, as our fullbacks are very attacking and are really like forwards.
"We don't play with a central striker but we do have three forwards and we will probably do the same against Spain."
(Editing by Alison Wildey)