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Spain on edge before key qualifiers
by Paul Kennedy, March 20th, 2013 8:11PM

TAGS:  england, germany, spain, world cup 2014

Winner of the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, Spain finds itself in the unusual position of being on edge.

Its 1-1 tie with France in Madrid -- a match France could have won -- has amped up the pressure of Vicente Del Bosque's squad ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at the Stade de France.

"Of course, I'm wary of this match, I have a lot of respect for the French and right now there isn't a big difference between the teams," said Del Bosque. "There are some great players in the French team, as good as in ours."

But the Spanish coach is more worried about the task at hand: beating Finland on Friday in Gijon.

"We have a sound team," Del Bosque told Marca. "The team will respond very well. We need to focus on Finland first."

The big concern in the Spanish camp is the fitness of star Xavi, who is suffering from a hamstring injury. Barca doctors publicly expressed concerns about his participation in Spain's two qualifiers. He may be kept out of the Finland game with the hope of being able to go against France on Tuesday.

Del Bosque must also decide who to start in goal in place of injured captain Iker Casillas. Manchester United's David de Gea, Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Barcelona goalie Victor Valdes are vying for the starting berth.

Some questioned Del Bosque's commitment to attack with the call-up of only two strikers: Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla) and David Villa (Barcelona). The exclusion of Chelsea's Fernando Torres was not unexpected, but many figured Del Bosque would bring in Michu, who has been a revelation this season in the English Premier League for Swansea City.

"I believe in the center forwards and we have brought two that are sufficient for us because we have other alternatives in attack such as Pedro, [David] Silva and [Juan] Mata," he said. "Nobody can doubt that we are an offensive team."

ENGLAND'S INJURY WOES. Jurgen Klinsmann should take solace in the fact that he's not the only national team coach with injury problems on his backline. England coach Roy Hodgson is thinking of using Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick at center back as a stop-gap measurefollowing the loss of three players.

Rio Ferdinand
's comeback bid was over before it started after he pulled out of the squad because of his concerns over how international duty would affect the training he's doing to deal with back problems. Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Tottenham’s Michael Dawson were also forced to drop out after suffering injuries last weekend.

Hodgson called up Joleon Lescott, who has played just four games in the last month and a half for Manchester City, and uncapped Steven Taylor, who plays for Newcastle United.

Friday's game against San Marino should be a piece of cake, but England faces a difficult test Tuesday at Montenegro.

GERMAN DEPTH TESTED. Germany's depth will be tested as it has lost half a dozen young stars due to injuries, illness or suspension for two qualifiers against Kazakhstan. The latest losses: midfielders Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), out with an inflamed knee, and Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund), who is suffering from the flu.

Bender's twin brother, Lars (Bayer Leverkusen), was earlier sidelined with a heel injury. Also missing are midfielder Marco Reus, who is suspended for the first Kazakhstan game, central defender Mats Hummels, his Borussia Dortmund teammate, and Bayern Munich defender Holger Badstuber, who are both injured.

QUALIFYING ON TV: Click here for Soccer America's Soccer on TV with information on Friday's 30 qualifiers available to U.S. viewers.
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