UEFA World Cup qualifying

Spain calls up Javi Martinez

October 5, 2012
By ESPN.com news services

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque recalled Bayern Munich center back or defensive midfielder Javi Martinez on Friday to patch up his weakened defense for the World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and France on Oct. 12 and 16.

avi Martinez and Fernando llorente Spain
GettyImagesVicente del Bosque called up Javi Martinez for Spain's Oct. 16 qualifier vs. France.

Del Bosque said the two matches, which come a week after an always intense meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid, were "vitally important" to the world champion's bid to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major title.

"These are vitally important games, Belarus especially. Any slip-up could cost us dearly," Del Bosque said. "There shouldn't be any relaxation after the 'clasico' match. This is not a long competition, it is a short one. The classification (for the World Cup) is in play."

Martinez is the only change to the squad from Spain's opening win at Georgia. The former Athletic Bilbao player replaced the injured Gerard Pique. Spain will also be without fellow center back Carles Puyol after he dislocated an elbow this week.

"With Javi Martinez, we have more alternatives," said Del Bosque. "He can play box to box. We will use him where we feel it is convenient."

Spain will be led by eight Barcelona players, including midfielders Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez. Madrid is next with five players.

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla and Manchester City playmaker David Silva also returned, along with Chelsea striker Fernando Torres to accompany David Villa up front.

Torres' teammate, Juan Mata, didn't make the squad despite his good start to the season. Del Bosque said there "wasn't enough room" for Mata.

Spain will put its run of 23 consecutive victories in qualifiers on the line at Belarus in Minsk next Friday, and then host France on Oct. 16 at Vicente Calderon stadium.

The match at Atletico Madrid's home grounds could be important in determining which of the two favorites, Spain or France, end up first in Group I to qualifyn automatically to Brazil in 2014. France has won its first two matches.

Del Bosque dismissed any notions that France is destined to finish second given Spain's long-standing dominance of international football.

"I know that they want to pass for underdogs, but they aren't," the former Madrid manager said. "They are a very good team. They have huge potential."

Finland is the fifth team in Group I.

Spain's complete squad includes:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).

Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Ignacio Monreal (Malaga), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Juanfran Torres (Atletico Madrid), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich).

Midfielders: Benat Etxebarria (Real Betis), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona).

Forwards: Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Roberto Soldado (Valencia), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), David Villa (Barcelona).

Information from The Associated Press and Efe News Agency was used in this report.