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Mar 22, 2013

Valdes set to start for Spain

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes looks set to get a rare competitive start for Spain in Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Finland at Gijon's El Molinon ground.

• Spain v Finland preview

Valdes, 31, has watched from the bench in recent years as Iker Casillas has captained La Roja to the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 trophies.

However, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque suggested the Madrid goalkeeper's hand injury means the Catalan will begin Friday's game between the posts, with Manchester United's David De Gea, 22, getting valuable experience training with the squad.

"Victor has a better chance, but we still have to think about it," Del Bosque said. "Iker not being here is a pain for us, but it also lets us bring along a kid [De Gea] who is going to have an important role with the national team in the coming years. This connection is going to be very good for him."

Spain's XI should also include David Villa, as the country's record goalscorer - with 53 goals in 86 games - gets a first competitive start in almost two years.

Del Bosque said that he had always believed Villa, 31, would return, even when he was struggling for game-time at Barcelona, and such faith had played a part in the player's recovery.

"We have helped a bit with his return to form, but above all it has been his work," he said. "We have always said that Villa's situation was unique. We have recovered the best goalscorer in Spanish football. You could see him a bit on the side at Barcelona because he played less, but you must consider he was coming back from injury. He is much better now."

With Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso expected to be rested due to respective hamstring and groin problems, Arsenal's Santi Cazorla should play in midfield.

The evidence from Thursday's final training session at Sporting Gijon's home ground, which was attended by approximately 20,00 Asturian fans, was that Manchester City's David Silva would start in place of Pedro Rodriguez on the right wing, despite the Barcelona man having scored nine times in six international games this season.

Spain's preparation for the game has been marred by claims by Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho about "irregularities" in Del Bosque's winning of FIFA's 2012 Coach of the Year award. Napoli striker Goran Pandev backed Mourinho's claim.

The veteran manager, who on Friday sets a new record of 69 games in charge of Spain, said he preferred to keep away from such divisive controversies, and to make it so that everyone - coaches, players and journalists - was united.

"We have a good relationship with the players and also with the media," Del Bosque said. "That is not a crime. Why would we have a bad relationship? What we must do is unite all the elements which surround football and the national team."

When not discussing Mourinho's claims, many in Spain have spent more time this week talking about France than Finland, with Tuesday's game at Stade de France seen as a likely group decider.

However, Madrid defender Sergio Ramos - set to win his 100th cap against the Finns - remembered Spain had not had things their own way against supposed minnows earlier in the group, and said Mixu Paatelainen's side would be no walkovers.

"Nobody is talking about them, but I believe it will be a difficult game," Ramos said. "We went to Georgia and we won the game in the 87th minute. So we must be very careful. If we slip up against Finland, against France on Tuesday it will be even more vital."

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