Spain’s second-choice team is incredible

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Spain have dominated the world of soccer of the past five years, both at club level with Barcelona’s once-in-a-lifetime team and, in particular, at international level, where they have won the last three major tournaments.

Such is their unbelievable squad depth that if their whole first-choice starting lineup was injured, their replacements would arguably still be a better side than anyone else in international soccer.

Spain’s best current starting eleven is probably the following:

CASILLAS, ARBELOA, RAMOS, PIQUE, ALBA, BUSQUETS, ALONSO, XAVI, INIESTA, VILLA, PEDRO.

Not too shabby I think you’d agree, but when you look at who would be in the backup side it just highlights how incredible the depth and quality of this generation of Spanish stars is.

GOALKEEPER

Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and David De Gea would all be capable of filling the void left by Casillas, with Valdes probably the favourite. Although Casillas is still the undisputed number one, his replacements are so good you would hardly notice he wasn’t playing.

DEFENSE

Carles Puyol, though a veteran, could still do a great job for the national side, and Real Madrid’s Raul Albiol, with 38 caps to his name, would also be a perfectly solid replacement for Ramos or Pique. At full-back Barcelona’s Martin Montoya is already pushing Arbeloa for a place in the side, while Arsenal’s new signing Nacho Monreal is a more than able deputy to the marauding Alba.

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MIDFIELD

Although the sensational trio of Busquets, Xavi and Alonso are almost impossible to replace, the quality in reserve is phenomenal.

Javi Martinez has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe, and many feel he should be ahead of Busquets in the pecking order now. Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Santi Cazorla are all top class players, and Spain’s squad is so incredible that one of those may not even make the second-choice team.

OFFENSE

This is perhaps the only area where Spain aren’t quite an unbelievable as they used to be. Villa is a little past his best, while Pedro has not had a good season at Camp Nou. Iniesta, in fairness, is still at the peak of his powers and in the top three players in the world. Strikers like Fernando Llorente, Alfredo Negredo and Roberto Soldado don’t really fit into their style of play but if push came to shove any of the three would replace Villa to decent effect. There’s not even space in the squad for Fernando Torres at the moment.

The most exctiting young player Spain have is Isco. The 20-year-old Malaga star looks like a wonderful prospect for the future. Jesus Navas is another excellent wide player on the fringes of the first team.

In summary, this could be Spain’s second-choice starting eleven:

VALDES, MONTOYA, PUYOL, ALBIOL, MONREAL, MARTINEZ, FABREGAS, SILVA, MATA , NAVAS, LLORENTE. 

That would beat most teams, wouldn’t it?

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.