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By ESPN Staff

Del Bosque plays down Rafa rift reports

Spain coach Vincente del Bosque has played down reports of a rift with Rafael Benitez - and claimed Fernando Torres might return to Liverpool in better shape than he arrived.

Torres' importance to the Anfield outfit was never shown to greater effect than at Portsmouth on Saturday when Liverpool appeared about to lose until their star striker was introduced from the bench and scored a last minute winner for the visitors to Fratton Park.

Yet Benitez knows he must manage the former Atletico Madrid man with care and cannot afford to risk his fragile hamstrings at such an important stage of the season.

Although he has not said so publicly, there is a feeling Benitez would have preferred it if Torres had remained on Merseyside this week rather than fly home for his country's encounter with England in Seville tomorrow.

However, Del Bosque has no intention of getting drawn into any war of words with Benitez, the club coach who supplies more of his players than anyone else.

"There has been no conflict with Rafa Benitez," he said. "I have always had good contact with him and was in Villarreal earlier this season when Liverpool played a friendly there.

"There is a perfectly correct relationship with Liverpool. I spoke to him last Friday and of course we spoke about the players and their physical condition.

"It was a perfectly cordial discussion and I would rather base my decision on what Rafa has said to me, not what has appeared in the press."

It seems certain Torres will not be required to play for the full 90 minutes even though Liverpool do not have another game until February 22, when they tackle Manchester City at Anfield.

However, Del Bosque has not decided exactly how long Torres, one of five Liverpool men in his squad, will be required for.

"You cannot make a decision in advance because then the game doesn't go the way you expect," he said.

"I know my starting 11 but it will depend on the match. You can't say this or that person is going to play 40 or 45 minutes because you don't know what is going to happen.

"But it might even be good for Fernando Torres to play a lot of minutes and go back to Liverpool in better shape."

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