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Mar 15, 2013

Xavi in Spain squad despite fitness doubts

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has named eight Premier League players including David de Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta, Javi Garcia and Nacho Monreal in his squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Finland and in France later this month.

The game in Paris looks likely to decide which of the sides, who drew 1-1 in Madrid in October, will top Group I and secure direct qualification for next year's finals in Brazil.

There is no place in the 24-man squad for Michu, Fernando Torres, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Javi Martinez or Roberto Soldado.

Malaga youngster Isco has been included as has Xavi Hernandez, despite the Barcelona playmaker's ongoing fitness concerns.

Del Bosque said he had spoken to Xavi about his hamstring problem, which reportedly required an injection for this week's Champions League win over AC Milan and means he misses Sunday's La Liga clash with Rayo Vallecano.

But it was agreed that he should be in the squad because of the importance of the France game.

"Xavi had a problem at the end of the game against Milan," Del Bosque said. "He said he had some discomfort, but that he wanted to come, if not for the first game then for the second. He is an example, yet again."

There was contrasting news for Barca pair Puyol and Cesc Fabregas, both of whom were left out of the rejigged side that was so impressive in Tuesday's win over Milan.

"I have been in contact with Puyol - he wanted to come, but he has some problems, he is not in his best condition," Del Bosque said.

"Cesc is one of Barcelona's regulars, even if he did not play the other day."

With Casillas, the usual national captain, still recovering from a broken bone in his left hand, Barca's Victor Valdes seems certain to start in goal with either Liverpool's Pepe Reina or Manchester United's uncapped De Gea on the bench.

"We have time to look at it," Del Bosque said of the goalkeeping situation. "These are the best available to us at the moment."

Barca's David Villa and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo make the cut but not Chelsea striker Torres, despite his late clincher in the Europa League victory over Steaua Bucharest on Thursday.

"We do not see [Torres] at 100%," Del Bosque explained. "We are not sure, and that is why we are not taking him.

"The inconsistency of our strikers is a worry for us. We believe in centre-forwards, and we have included two. We are a team made to attack, and have lots of attacking players."

Isco, who made his debut against Uruguay in February's 3-1 friendly victory and continued his meteoric rise with a goal in Malaga's 2-0 Champions League win over Porto on Wednesday, is one of those.

"[Isco] has always been close to the national team," the coach said. "He deserves his place. All of those coming with us, except De Gea, have made their debuts. There is enormous competition for places."

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