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Upsets of Euro 2016 qualifying

Five Aside

Ukraine win positions Spain for Euro qualification, still work to do

Alvaro Morata scored his first goal for Spain to give La Roja a 1-nil victory over Ukraine.
The ESPN FC crew assess Spain's performance against Ukraine and if it's good enough for the European Championship.

Alvaro Morata got the only goal, and fellow youngster Isco impressed, but Spain's 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Ukraine on Friday night did not exactly suggest a bright new dawn for La Roja.

The game began as Spain coach Vicente del Bosque presumably hoped, with his bet to play the emerging star duo in central attacking roles paying off. Juventus centre-forward Morata's clever movement was causing the visiting defence plenty of problems, while Madrid playmaker Isco was revelling in a No. 10...

 By Michael Cox

Can Verratti, De Gea and Kane break into their national teams' starting XIs?

The ESPN FC crew debate whether or not Harry Kane should start up front for England against Lithuania.
England head coach Roy Hodgson, and striker Wayne Rooney are confident about Harry Kane's debut in the European qualifier against Lithuania.

The European Championship's expansion to a 24-team tournament has a multitude of effects -- one is that it effectively gives the major countries a free pass. Therefore, managers have more license to experiment and evolve their side with significantly less risk of failure.

Here are five fine talents still attempting to break into their country's first-choice XI -- what chance do they have of overhauling more established names?

1. Marco Verratti, Italy

By this stage, we expected Verratti to be Italy's...

 By Lee Roden

Vicente del Bosque looks to replicate Spain's club dynamic before Euro 2016

Spain manager Vicente del Bosque says his side will treat Ukraine with respect ahead of their crucial Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday.
The Spanish Football Federation have confirmed Chelsea's Diego Costa will miss Spain's upcoming internationals with a hamstring injury.

How the mighty have fallen.

This time last year, Spain were champions of the world, blissfully unaware of the humiliation that would follow a few months later when they tried to defend their World Cup trophy. Fast-forward to the present and the effects of the debacle in Brazil are still being felt. The latest edition of the FIFA World Ranking saw La Roja drop out of the top 10 for the first time in eight years.

Spain are still European champions, however, and building a side capable of defending...

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea feels like Captain America

David de Gea says he felt like comic book superhero Captain America following his remarkable transformation from skinny youngster to hulking goalkeeper. So ... here he is as Captain America.

De Gea has turned into one of the best goalkeepers on the planet since arriving at Old Trafford in 2011, thanks partly to a more robust physique, which he attributes to a strengthening programme he embarked upon shortly after joining.

So impressed was the Spain international that he likened his transformation...

 By Rob Train

Asier Illarramendi's career at Real Madrid needs a kickstart

ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes breaks down what Luka Modric's injury will do to the Real Madrid midfield.

Many professional footballers wait for that "lucky break" -- a golden chance to add the prefix make-or to their first-team situation. One of few exceptions is Asier Illarramendi, who either stands to benefit hugely from the injury sustained by club teammate Luka Modric, or find that his prospects at Real Madrid are as limited as a Spanish comedy film script.

The Basque midfielder's role at the Bernabeu has gone beyond an audition, and the 24-year-old now faces gallows humour at best. Signed in the...

Patience needed as Vicente Del Bosque takes Spain into a new era

Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque discusses his team's 1-0 defeat by Germany, La Roja's third loss since the World Cup.
A late, long-range strike from Toni Kroos handed Spain their first loss at home in 34 games.

Vicente Del Bosque has been here before.

In 1981 as his Real Madrid playing career began to wind down, his status as an admired -- indeed, much-loved -- ball-playing midfielder transformed into that of the player the crowd found it most easy to moan about.

The easiest player to blame.

There were some in the media who could see that this was really nothing more than the 30-year-old being used as a whipping boy for much wider problems. At the time Del Bosque told El Pais, Spain's leading quality...