Juan Mata's chances of earning a place in next summer's World Cup with Spain are diminishing by the day, even though the Spanish Maestro recently admitted that his desire to make the trip to Brazil was one of his main reasons behind his decision to join Manchester United from Chelsea during the most recent transfer window.
The United playmaker was left out of Spain's 22-man squad for the friendly Italy on Wednesday, and with the rest of his compatriots excelling during a 1-0 victory it is expected that manager Vicente Del Bosque will make very few changes in his final list of players for the World Cup.
Del Bosque picked just 22 players to play against Italy because Gerard Pique was injured, but considering that the Barcelona defender is certain to go to Brazil, Mata's chances of earning a spot in the final squad will depend more on injuries than on his performance at United in the last part of the season.
According to the Spanish press Del Bosque's final selection is almost made. From the 22-man squad that played against Italy there may be two changes (barring injuries) and his biggest doubt, and maybe the only one, is whether to call up another striker like Fernando Torres, alongside Diego Costa and Alvaro Negredo, or use Cesc Fabregas as a 'false nine' as he did in the last European Cup.
Meanwhile Bayern Munich's Thiago Alcantara, the most recent addition to the Spanish squad, secured a place with his amazing performance against Italy, while Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta will fight with Alvaro Arbeloa and Juanfran for a place in the defence.
So, who are Mata's six main rivals in the race to secure a spot in the Spanish squad?
The Barcelona forward is one of Del Bosque's favourites. Against Italy, he scored the only goal of the game and was the man of the match. His place in the World Cup is more than safe.
The Barcelona midfielder has been Spain's hero since he scored the only goal of the 2010 World Cup final against Holland. His trip to Brazil is beyond doubt.
The Manchester City playmaker has been a pivotal player in Spain's recent successes (2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2010 European Cup). On Wednesday he came on as a substitute and won a place in Brazil by being the best Spanish player during the second half.
The Manchester City summer signing will not be a starting player but he has a safe place in Spain's squad, as he is the only winger and Del Bosque considers him a pivotal player for the second halves of matches.
The Atletico Madrid attacking midfielder is one of the new faces of the Spanish national team. The 22-year-old is yet to play for Spain in a major tournament but has lately become one of Del Bosque's favourites. He is probably among the top five La Liga players this season and his versatility [he is able to play as a playmaker, midifielder or even right-back] increase his chances of securing a spot with Spain.
The Arsenal playmaker won the 2008 European Cup and the 2010 World Cup with Spain but was left out of the last European tournament due to injuries. Del Bosque has trusted him lately, and he played eight minutes in the second half against Italy. However, from this list of six, the former Malaga midfielder is probably the one that will be in direct competition with his friend Mata to secure a place in Brazil, proving in the last part of the Premier League that he deserves a place ahead of the United star.