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Spain handed Xavi fitness boost

Spain playmaker Xavi Hernandez is set to start Tuesday evening's key World Cup qualifier against France in Paris.

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Xavi continues to be troubled by the hamstring injury that has seen him miss a number of recent Barcelona games. He sat out Spain's surprise 1-1 draw with Finland in Gijon on Friday, and La Roja coach Vicente Del Bosque said on Monday that the player would decide whether he was fit to play.

After taking part in full training at the stadium on Monday night, Xavi is now expected to start the game alongside fellow returning midfielder Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid.

Speaking at Monday's pre-game press conference, Spain winger Pedro Rodriguez said Xavi's return was vital to the reigning World Champions' plan for the game.

"He has been looking after himself," Pedro said. "Now he has trained with us at a good rhythm. He is a very important player, and surely he will be available against France. He is so important for us to control the centre of the pitch. We hope he will be there with us."

Injured goalkeeper Iker Casillas will also be at the Stade de France, having flown to Paris on a commercial flight after senior Spain players reportedly asked the Spanish FA (RFEF) to invite him to be with them.

Defender Sergio Ramos said on Monday that having Xavi back in the team and Casillas around the squad was positive news as the Spain players prepared for the game, which they must win to remain in control of their fate in Group I.

"The word captain brings together certain values, which Xavi and Iker both have," Ramos said. "Xavi has made a huge effort to be able to play. And the gesture from Casillas is very positive. These are always good things for the group."

Spain's XI should see at least four changes from the disappointing draw with the Finns.

As well as Xavi and Alonso, Pedro is likely to start on the right wing in place of the suspended David Silva, while Arsenal's Nacho Monreal is favoured - just - ahead of Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta to replace the injured Jordi Alba at left-back.

That leaves just one starting spot up front, with Barca club-mates David Villa and Cesc Fabregas and Sevilla centre-forward Alvaro Negredo all under consideration by Del Bosque.

Pedro said the veteran coach made his tactical choices based on each particular match.

"It depends on how you see the game," he explained. "Each player brings different things.

"With a more fixed centre-forward you can look for crosses into the area. With a 'false 9', you look more to control the centre of the field.

"The game against France is going to be difficult because of the quality of their team, but we will go out to play our own game."


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