Jordi Alba and Andrés Iniesta score as Spain beat Slovakia

Jordi Alba opens the scoring after five minutes in Oviedo / UEFA.COM
A 2-0 victory leaves Vicente del Bosque’s side top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group with three games left to play

FC Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Andrés Iniesta scored the goals in Oviedo on Saturday evening as Spain defeated Slovakia 2-0. The result means that the home side now join their guests on 18 points at the top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group C. It also guarantees the 2008 and 2012 champions at least a place in the playoffs, but with Ukraine beating Belarus 3-1 and just three points behind the top two, there is still some work to be done in order to secure direct passage to the finals in France.

Vicente del Bosque opted to start the game with Alba and Gerard Piqué in his back four, and with Iniesta and Sergi Busquets teaming up with former colleague Cesc Fabregàs in a tremendously effective three-man midfield. The other Barça player in the squad, Marc Bartra, was an unused substitute.

Alba and Iniesta score

The match got off to the perfect start for ‘La Roja’, with a piece of magic from David Silva after just five minutes. A wonderful left-footed assist was met by Jordi Alba running in from nowhere to head Spain into an early lead.

The home side were in full control of the proceedings, and Alba had come very close to scoring his second header of the night shortly before their lead was extended. On the half hour, Slovak keeper Kozacic brought Diego Costa down in the area and a composed Iniesta stepped up to take, and coolly convert, from the penalty spot.

The visitors looked considerably more dangerous after the break, and Mak really should have scored in the 50th minute. But despite Slovakia’s best efforts, Spain never really looked in danger of losing their lead. They can now prepare for a trip to Skopje to play Macedonia on September 8 (8.45pm CET). At the same time, Slovakia will be hosting Ukraine, and that’s good news for the Spanish because it means that at least one of their two direct rivals will inevitably be dropping points.

Edmílson: "Rafinha is full of enthusiasm and seems comfortable playing for Brazil"

José Edmílson on the training pitch with Brazil / CBF
Dunga’s assistant for the two games in the United States is impressed by Neymar and Rafinha’s motivation to play for their country following a wonderful season for FC Barcelona

The Brazilian Football Confederation is drawing on its most illustrious former players to assist manager Dunga with their experience of playing for the national team. One of those is Edmílson, who was at FC Barcelona from 2004 to 2008 and helped the side to the Champions League win in Paris in 2006. For his country, he won the World Cup in Korea and Japan in 2002 and is now accompanying the ‘canarinha’ for their friendlies against Costa Rica in New Jersey and the United States in Boston.

What can you offer to Dunga as his assistant?
Well, to be honest it’s quite surprising to look back and realise that you’ve ‘been around for a few years’ [laughs] …. Football is and always has been my life, and after almost 20 years as a professional, I think I can offer the experience of somebody who has been through a lot of different situations both on and off the field. I can help make sure certain ‘mistakes’ are corrected in time or even before they happen.

I’ve been enormously lucky in that time not just to have won major titles like the 2002 World Cup for Brazil and the 2006 Champions League for FC Barcelona, but also to get the best out of football thanks to competing in Spain, France and Brazil.

How should the team recover from the Copa America?
After a tough World Cup like the one in our home country in 2014 and after such a discrete role at the Copa America in 2015, the Brazil team needs to get back to its best and recover the identity of being five-time world champions. We need to change things from the roots.

How are Neymar and Rafinha looking these days?
They look fine to me. It’s always a special motivation for both of them to come and play for the national team and they’ve had a wonderful year at FC Barcelona under Luis Enrique, where they have developed individually and also won another historic treble.

Rafinha is in the Brazil squad for the first time. How is he fitting in?
Very well. The team are a very closely-knit unit and he looks enthusiastic and comfortable, two factors that ensure that such an important challenge turns out positive. Rafinha is going through a very important year in terms of his development, by winning a place in the team both for club and country. He looks focused and very motivated, and that’s the way he should be.

[[CITA_1]]What can Rafinha do for Brazil?
Rafinha is a very complete player. He’s very skilful, especially at dribbling and moving the ball around, where few players can match him. As his game matures, he’ll have more and more to offer to the national team, both individually and as a group, and if he carries on the way he is, I’m sure he’ll soon develop into an important part of the team.

What do you make of Barça under Luis Enrique this season?
They seem to have started the league very well, with positive vibes and results, especially as it’s such a ‘special’ year given the circumstances of not being able to use the new signings until January 2016. Luis Enrique is a good coach, with a lot of character. Last season he showed that he’s very clear about what he wants and getting involved in his team.

It will be nice to see Barcelona try to better itself for another year. I believe that if they can keep up the results for the first half of the season, when players like Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal come in from January, they’ll be even more assured for the second half of the season in all competitions.

Can they dream of winning all the same titles as last year?
A Barça fan always dreams of winning every title at stake, that’s part of our identity, but the most important thing is always to be there to support the team and not forget what has been achieved in recent years, and especially how those things were achieved. To get results and play football of such a high standard is never easy. But it should teach us that, when those things don’t happen for whatever reason that might be, Barça fans need to keep on supporting the team and cheering them on towards the next challenge.

Would you like to work for Brazil on a more long-term basis?
It is an option and not one I’m ignoring, just like I have the hope of one day working for FC Barcelona. It will always be my home. I visit the city and my Foundation with my family whenever I can, and we still have a house there.

But for the time being, the most important thing for me is to keep doing what I can for the national team, and also on a personal level to be able to learn from this magnificent chance to experience the sport I love from a different angle.

Luis Enrique is very clear about what he wants and getting involved in his team.

Return of the international players

An image from Friday's training / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
First team to have five training sessions before visit to Atlético Madrid

After a two-day rest this weekend, FC Barcelona face an enduring week of training. Sessions have been scheduled for each weekday, which will include weaning in the returning international players, before Saturday’s league match against Atlético Madrid.

Below is Barça’s training schedule for the week commencing 7 September (all times CET):

MONDAY 7 SEPTEMBER
6.00pm: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)  

TUESDAY 8 SEPTEMBER
11.00am: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)

WEDNESDAY 9 SEPTEMBER
11.00am: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)

THURSDAY 10 SEPTEMBER
11.00am: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)

FRIDAY 11 SEPTEMBER
11.00am: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)

SATURDAY 12 SEPTEMBER
8.30pm: League match against Atlético Madrid (Vicente Calderón)

SUNDAY 13 SEPTEMBER
12.00pm: Training (Ciutat Esportiva)

Last training session of the week

Munir rejoins the squad after playing for the Spanish under-21s on Tuesday

FC Barcelona on Friday completed their final training session of a week without a host of first team players who were away on international duty. However, Munir El Haddadi was back with the squad after playing for the Spanish under-21 side against Estonia on Tuesday.

Training was held on pitch number two at Ciutat Esportiva where all available players took part, including four players from the U19 squad: Paik, Mújica, Arnau and Rubén.

The first team’s next practice session will take place on Monday evening as Barça prepare for Saturday’s trip to Madrid to take on Atlético.

Victory for Vermaelen, draws for Turan and Rakitic

Thomas Vermaelen celebrating De Bruyne's goal / UEFA.COM
The Barça defender returns to the national side after an absence of 14 months and helps his side to an important win in qualification for Euro 2016

The Belgian is the only victorious blaugrana with Arda Turan’s Turkey and Rakitic’s Croatia drawing

Thomas Vermaelen‘s excellent start to the season at Barça has been echoed with his form for his national side. After an absence of 14 months, the defender not only returned to the Belgian national squad but also started the match against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Roma striker Edin Dzeko put Bosnia ahead after a quarter of an hour but goals from Felliani, De Bruyne and Hazard gave Belgium a deserved 3-1 win with Vermaelen playing all 90 minute in the encounter. With the win, Belgium remain three points behind leaders Wales in Group B. Vermaelen was not the only blaugrana in action in the fixtures for qualification for Euro 2016.

Assist for Turkey but only draw for Turkey

The summer signing played his first official game since joining the blaugranes, Turan captained a Turkey side who were up against Latvia in their seventh game of the qualifying stages. Inan’s goal with an assist from the blaugrana 13 minutes from time appeared to have given the Turks a 2-1 win but an injury time equaliser from Sabala gave the Baltic team a share of the points.

Turkey missed the chance to make the most of Holland’s defeat against Iceland in Group A but they are now only a point off third place in the standings.

Draw for Rakitic

Earlier in the evening Azerbaijan took on Ivan Rakitic’s Croatia side. The game ended goalless despite the best efforts of the Balkans who are now coached by former Barça player Robert Prosinecki. Rakitic played all 90 minutes and came close to opening the scoring with an excellent free kick from the just outside the box. With the point Croatia remain top of Group H, although now they are joined on 15 points by Italy following the azzurri’s 1-0 win over Malta.