by Glenn Mason

Spain. World champions. European champions. Chasing an unprecedented hat-trick of international trophies. Football games don't come much tougher than this. 

It is the greatest challenge that many of the Republic of Ireland players will face in their professional careers.

As if playing the World and European champions was not daunting enough, there is the added pressure of needing at least a draw to avoid returning home next Tuesday.

Giovanni Trapattoni broke with tradition yesterday and did not name his starting line-up a day in advance.

The Italian said he did not want to reveal his hand to Vicente Del Bosque, but admitted there would be "one or two" changes.

He said: "I need first to inform my players and then secondly, to see training. But sure, I won't change three, four or five players, but maybe one or two."

Ireland's tactics will be simple and uncomplicated: frustrate the life out of the supremely talented Spanish for as long as possible and nick a goal from a set-piece.

Xabi Alonso said at the pre-match press conference yesterday in Gdansk that Spain know all about Ireland's ability from dead balls around the box.

They are aware of the dangers Ireland pose but not overly worried. They know if they play close to their potential they will stroll to victory.

Spanish attention has been more focused on the reaction to their opening day draw with Italy and retaining the title they won in 2008 than anything Ireland can do.

It is that distraction that gives Ireland a chance of causing a surprise and claiming the point they need to go into the final group game against Italy with a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

Ireland have come second in the possession ratings against inferior opposition, so it will be no surprise that they will spend long periods without the ball tonight.

Whether Spain use five men or six men in midfield is irrelevant, Xavi, Iniesta and co will knock the ball around for fun.

The speculation is that Kevin Doyle will lose his place to Jonathan Walters as Trapattoni seeks to bolster his midfield ranks.

Walters' inclusion would be harsh on Doyle who was one of Ireland's better performers against Croatia and put in a tireless performance. Walters will be asked to disrupt Spain's fluent passing game and also help Robbie Keane in rare attacks.

Keane will have to work his socks off as the lone man up front to stop Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos building from the back.

Richard Dunne and his defensive colleagues, who could include Stephen Kelly in place of Stephen Ward, are expecting a very busy evening and Shay Given will have to be at his best.

Trapattoni is not likely to throw caution to the wind until absolutely necessary so don't expect a gung-ho approach until the final minutes. James McClean is set to watch this backs against the wall job from comfort of the bench.

Ireland badly need a result and there is no margin for the errors that costs them against Croatia on Sunday.

For the thousands of Irish fans in the stadium and the millions watching at home, or from behind the sofa, it promises to be a nerve-jangling evening.

PREDICTIONS 
Head: Ireland 0-3 Spain

Heart: Ireland 1-0 Spain.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS 
These sides last met in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup, with Spain winning 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Robbie Keane's late penalty cancelled out Fernando Morientes' eighth minute header in Suwon.

Ian Harte had a penalty saved in the second half by Iker Casillas. Kevin Kilbane smacked the rebound over the bar.

They also met in qualifying for the 1966, 1990 and 1994 World Cups, as well as the qualifying tournaments for the 1964, 1968 and 1984 European Championships.

FORM GUIDE: 
The opening game defeat to Croatia ended Ireland's 14-game unbeaten run, which stretched back to the 3-2 defeat to Uruguay in March 2011.

Spain's 1-1 draw with Italy on Sunday halted their run of 14 consecutive competitive wins. The run began after the 1-0 loss to Switzerland in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup.

THEY SAID: 
Giovanni Trapattoni: 
"We have attitude, mentality, commitment, technical ability. We don't make bets, but I think we can win. Why not?"

"Our objective is to be offensive and try to win the game, but at the same time, we need also to find a way to help the midfield because sometimes, we have suffered in this situation."

Robbie Keane: 
"People have probably written us off and not given us any hope. After losing the other night it is very important that we get something out of the game, because we need to get points on the board as soon as possible"

Xabi Alonso:
"We play against great opponents and we have to respect them. We have to respect their players. We have to accept our opponents and know that they can play."

Jordi Alba:
"I am looking forward to tomorrow. We want to win and I think we can win. They are a great team and we are a team that likes winning. I think that we will give everything and some players are more experienced and some players are more new, like me, but we will all fight together for the victory."

Michael Robinson (former Ireland international):
"There's no threat from Ireland. Ireland cannot win this match. It's like Muhammad Ali fighting a dwarf. Ireland are going to try to be an irritating obstacle, but if Spain play at 80% of their ability, they'll thrash them."

STADIUM - PGE Arena 
The stunning amber-coloured 40,000-seater arena cost around €180m to construct and was opened in July 2011.

The home of Lechia Gdansk is located in the northern Gdansk suburbs and will host three group games and a quarter-final.

The Spanish complained about the slow playing surface after the Italy game on Sunday.