World Cup qualifying news

Iker Casillas questions qualifying

September 10, 2012
By ESPN.com news services

Iker Casillas, captain of the defending World Cup champion Spain, said Monday he finds it "strange" that the World Cup holders must qualify for 2014.

Iker Casillas cemented his claims to greatness with some inspirational performances in South Africa
GettyImagesIker Casillas cemented his claims to greatness with some inspirational performances in South Africa

In the past, World Cup winners received automatic bids, but FIFA changed the rules for the 2006 competition when Brazil had to qualify.

"Obviously it is strange and unusual that the world champion does not have an automatic ticket for Brazil, but they decided it was better that the champion had to qualify," the Real Madrid goalkeeper said during a press conference Monday prior to Spain's match vs. Georgia. "It could happen that we do not reach the World Cup and it would be strange if the champions were not there to defend their title, but we are just thinking about what we are doing. It is for others to think if it is a good idea considering what we achieved in winning the World Cup."

La Roja are in Group I to open Brazil 2014 qualifying along with France, Belarus, Finland and Georgia, and were not involved in the opening round of qualifiers -- instead beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 in a friendly on Friday night in Pontevedra. Spain faces Georgia on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3).

Xavi, meanwhile, said Spain has to start from scratch.

"Being the World and European champion guarantees you nothing," said the Barcelona midfielder. "It is understood that we are going to be at the World Cup and it is going to be tough."

Casillas said he knew Spain are favorites to progress, but agreed with coach Vicente del Bosque that they must take each rival in their group seriously.

"We are going in remembering the words of the 'mister,'" he said. "We want to get our first three points, knowing that, in theory, we have games which should not bring us problems, apart from France. But we know that these are opponents who can take points off us."

Georgia began its campaign with a 1-0 win over Belarus in Tbilisi on Friday, and Casillas said the Spanish players had already watched that game and made notes.

"We saw the video this morning," he said. "We know their 'keeper, (Giorgi) Loria, who was phenomenal against Belarus. We know (Jano) Ananidze, who is a good player. As I knew I would be asked, I learned their names."

Xavi said the idea of playing against Brazil is inspiring.

"This generation (of the team) has never played against Brazil and that is extra motivation," he said.

Meanwhile, returning Barcelona forward David Villa said he is eager to make up for lost time at the international level after sitting out much of the last year with a broken leg.

"I'm improving little by little and getting better physically," Villa said. "I've spent a lot of time training, the body is adapting and it will take time. It is up to the coach to decide whether I am ready to start matches again."