Spain options limited by injuries
Vicente Del Bosque admitted he had some tricky selection decisions to make ahead of Spain’s World Cup qualifier in Finland on Friday night.
Del Bosque is without the suspended Gerard Pique, is missing all of his usual deep midfield options, must decide between Victor Valdes and Iker Casillas in goal and which of his talented attacking players to leave out.
Raul Albiol and David Villa are tipped to start at centre-back and centre-forward respectively, but the biggest quandary for the World Cup holders is in midfield. The absences of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, plus regular back-ups Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara, means that Atletico Madrid’s Mario Suarez could make a first Spain start as Del Bosque’s only central ‘holding’ player.
The veteran coach told reporters in Helsinki on Thursday that there was no need to be over dramatic, as he had confidence in those players who would come in.
"There are positions where we have some important absences and we must think long and hard about it," Del Bosque said. "We do not need to be dramatic about the absences, because we have people underneath who will do very well. Obviously, these are sensitive losses. The body of our national team has been Busquets and Xabi Alonso, who are not here, but in Spain there are many people for that position, and one of them will solve the problem for us."
Finland shocked Spain by scoring a late equaliser to nick a point in Gijon earlier in the group, in a game in which La Roja monopolised possession but found it difficult to make chances.
Del Bosque said that getting width from the full-back positions could be key to getting around the Finns, amid speculation that Atletico midfield schemer Koke had been tried at right-back in training.
"We give a lot of importance to the full-backs," he said. "When a team sits back, we need to open up the pitch. The full-backs will be very important."
Del Bosque said he did not expect the Finns to sit back quite as much as they did in the first group meeting, as a win would give them an outside chance of making the play-offs.
"I do not believe it will be absolute domination like in Gijon," he said. "A win brings them close to the top places. They will look for a win. They have their dangers. They are good on the counter-attack, they transition well. A set-piece could do us a lot of damage."
Also speaking to reporters ahead of the game, Xavi Hernandez said that moving the ball around quickly to move the oppostion defence around was more important than whether Spain played with a traditional centre-forward or not.
"It depends on the game," Xavi said. "What is necessary is to open up the field. From there, a traditional nine or a false nine can work. The circulation of the ball must be very quick."
Whichever system Del Bosque chose, Cesc Fabregas would be a key man, Xavi predicted.
"He is extraordinary and versatile," he said. "He can play as an attacking central midfielder and as a forward. He has the gift of the final ball, he breaks into the area with intention. He has a shot, and scores goals. He is different, not a midfielder with one use."
The Barcelona play-maker hinted he was leaning towards the very in-form Valdes for the goalkeeping position as his team-mate deserved a chance to be number one.
"Victor Valdes is an example," Xavi said. "He has known how to wait for his opportunity. His performances do not surprise me. But he is my friend and I am not objective."