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Real escape with hope of progress

What the papers say
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By ESPN Staff

Spain players surprised at star duo's omission

MADRID, May 16 (Reuters) - Spain players have expressed their surprise at the omission of Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes and Valencia midfielder Ruben Baraja from the squad for the World Cup.

"It's very strange," Baraja's Valencia colleague David Albelda was quoted as saying in Spanish daily El Mundo on Tuesday.

"The midfielders that are going like (Marcos) Senna, (Andres) Iniesta and Cesc (Fabregas) have very few caps between them.

"(Coach) Luis (Aragones) is the one who decides and he will have his reasons, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Ruben won't be going because he deserves to go to this World Cup.

"He's got more caps that all the other midfielders and his absence is the one that has most surprised me."

Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia expressed similar disappointment after Morientes was left out of the 23-man squad.

"It's a real shame for Morientes, because he is a great team mate and he's always ready to help the team."

Morientes has found the net just nine times for Liverpool this season, but has an impressive record when he has played for Spain, scoring 26 times in 43 games.

His omission means that Valencia's David Villa, Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres and skipper Raul are the team's only out-and-out forwards.

Baraja and Morientes were the most high-profile absentees from the squad for Germany, but Aragones also decided to overlook Valencia winger Vicente who has only recently recovered fitness after missing much of the season because of an ankle injury.

Instead, Aragones opted to strengthen his defensive resources with the inclusion of Valencia centre-back Carlos Marchena and also added youngsters Andres Iniesta and Fabregas to give him more options in midfield.

Fabregas, who will be pitted against Iniesta in Wednesday's Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona, said he was overjoyed at being included.

"It was the happiest news I've ever received," said the 19-year-old Arsenal player. "I didn't want to get my hopes up until it was made official ... It has been a marvellous year and I'm sure I'll never forget it.

"There are still things to achieve, though. On Wednesday I've got the Champions League final and then I've got the World Cup. I think the best is still to come."