Xavi, 3 others out for Spain vs. Finland
Missing four of its veteran players, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque could offer a glimpse of what the future holds in store for the world champions when they host Finland on Friday in a World Cup qualifier.
But with the first three out for health reasons and Torres being dropped for his erratic play, Del Bosque will be relying on a mix of players in their prime and a crop of promising newcomers, including forwards Francisco "Isco" Alarcon and Juan Mata, and Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.
Four days after the game at El Molinon Stadium, Spain faces an important trip to Paris to meet France with the two sides currently level on points at the top of their group.
"For us, the most important match is the one tomorrow vs. Finland," Mata told the Spanish daily Marca. "Like Vicente said, it would be a mistake to think about Paris. We have to win tomorrow."
The victor of the France-Spain match will close in on automatically qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The loser will likely face a two-game playoff.
Barring an unforeseen change, Sergio Busquets will anchor Spain's midfield in both matches. The 24-year-old Barcelona holding midfielder is one of the players tapped to maintain his starting position with the team for years to come.
"Those who couldn't make it like Iker and Puyol, if they had had the smallest chance to come and play these games they would have," Busquets said. "We are playing with a spot in the World Cup on the line and any one of them would give anything to be here to help the team."
Casillas just returned from a broken left hand, while Puyol had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier this week and will be out for 2-3 months.
Del Bosque included Xavi in the squad with hopes to recover him in time for the trip to France. The Barcelona midfielder is Spain's main playmaker and has been struggling to recover from an injury to a muscle in his right leg.
Finland is in last place in the group with only one point from two games. It managed to rescue a point despite playing a man down against Georgia in its last outing in October, while France edged the Finns 1-0 in their first game.
France hosts Georgia on Friday.
This will be Spain's first qualifier since conceding an injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with France at home last October.
"France will be thinking about Georgia just like we will be thinking about Finland," Del Bosque said. "Three points are at play in the next game and they count just the same. We will have to be very focused so we don't slip up."
Del Bosque will break Ladislao Kubala's record of 68 games at the head of the national team on Friday. The former Real Madrid coach has a record of 57 wins, five draws and six losses with Spain.
Spain defender Sergio Ramos, meanwhile, will record his 100th with his next appearance.
Spain will likely be led by leading goal scorer David Villa, who arrives from his best stretch of the season for Barcelona with goals in his last two matches, including one in its 4-0 comeback against AC Milan in the Champions League.
Pedro Rodriguez has been Spain's leading scorer since last year's European Championship with nine goals overall and three in qualifiers.
Del Bosque could also use Cesc Fabregas up front as he did in the Euro 2012 final.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.