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The Toe Poke

Spain's Xavi, Alonso doubtful for qualifier

Spain look set to start Friday's World Cup qualifier against Finland in Gijon without key midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso, although both players should return for Tuesday's likely Group I decider against France in Paris.

• Preview: Spain v Finland

The two key cogs in La Roja's machine are currently being nursed through games by their clubs, with Xavi sitting out Barcelona's 3-1 La Liga stroll past Rayo Vallecano last Sunday with a hamstring problem, while Alonso played just the final 28 minutes of Real Madrid's 5-2 defear of Real Mallorca as he manages a groin concern.

Xavi's issue is the more serious, with the Catalan club's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta voicing a worry after the Rayo game that he could aggravate it on international duty.

Del Bosque, more concerned with his own team's requirement to pick up six points this week to remain on course for direct qualification for Brazil 2014, told Spanish radio show El Larguero on Wednesday night that the player himself was the best judge of his own readiness to play.

"In these cases, he himself is the best doctor," the veteran coach said. "We are not going to do anything if he does not tell us he is fine. We are not going to force anyone who might have any little problem."

The World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 winning manager, who was doing a circuit of Spain's late-night radio sports shows in the aftermath of Jose Mourinho's FIFA vote-rigging claims, told Onda Cero's Al Primer Toque that Alonso was the more likely of the two to play against Finland at El Molinon.

"Xabi Alonso is not ruled out yet," he said. "In Xavi's case he will not play on Friday. Xabi has done less work, which we have considered the right thing to do."

Arsenal's Santi Cazorla therefore looks likely to come into the team for the first game of the double-header, while Manchester City's David Silva could miss out in a reshuffle of the starting side designed to bring Barcelona's David Villa back in for a first competitive international start since October 2011.

Definitely missing for Spain will be regular goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, who has yet to return to first team action with Madrid since breaking a finger in January. That injury has led to a first senior call-up for Manchester United's David De Gea, although Barcelona's Victor Valdes is expected to start in goal in both upcoming games, with Liverpool's more experienced Pepe Reina on the bench.

The former Atletico Madrid keeper told Marca on Thursday that he was more than happy to be called up to the squad, considering the quality of keepers available to Del Bosque.

"I am here to work and help out," De Gea said. "I believe that Spain has the best set of keepers in the world. It is not easy to come here, because there are three world-class keepers. In La Liga there are some other great ones. We do not know [who will play], but I imagine Valdes or Reina will take to the pitch."


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