By Iain Rogers
MADRID, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is missing several key performers for Friday's World Cup Group I qualifier away to Finland but one player who will be available comes into the match in a rich vein of form.
Cesc Fabregas has impressed for Barcelona during the opening weeks of the La Liga season and could make the difference for the world and European champions as they seek to maintain their grip on top spot ahead of France and take a step closer to securing an automatic berth at next year's tournament in Brazil.
The 26-year-old former Arsenal captain has made five assists in his three league appearances this term, already half as many as the whole of last season, and Del Bosque will look to him to help unlock Finland's stubborn defence.
Spain struggled in their qualifier against them in Gijon in March, taking a 1-0 lead through centre back Sergio Ramos before conceding a late equaliser to draw 1-1.
Del Bosque has often deployed Fabregas, who has played 83 times for Spain, as a so-called "false nine", foregoing a traditional striker and using him in a roving forward role that is tricky to defend against.
At Barca he typically plays further back in midfield and had an excellent game there at Valencia on Sunday when he twice set up World Player of the Year Lionel Messi to score.
"We are not going to be over-confident against a team like Finland, not at all," sports daily Marca quoted Fabregas as saying on Wednesday.
"We already experienced the match in Gijon and those are things that you learn from."
Del Bosque's main concern is the absence of midfield stalwarts Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, who are injured along with Javi Martinez.
Javi Garcia and Mario Suarez are in the squad as cover and could get the chance to impress their coach and improve their chances of selection for next year's finals.
"The coach has tried various options (in training) but if I play or not I am here to contribute, to give things to the team," Suarez, who plays at Atletico Madrid, told a news conference on Wednesday.
With Gerard Pique suspended, Raul Albiol will probably partner Ramos in central defence, or Del Bosque may opt to give 23-year-old Ignacio Fernandez, who plays with Ramos at Real, his first cap for the senior side.
Playmaker Isco, who has been on fine form for Real in recent weeks, is a doubt after injuring an ankle in training on Tuesday and sitting out Wednesday's session.
Finland, ranked 65 in the world and bidding to qualify for the finals of a World Cup for the first time, are third in the group, four points behind the French, who play minnows Georgia in Tbilisi on Friday.
"Spain know we are able to make it very difficult for them, we can dull their attacks," Finland coach Mixu Paatelainen told a news conference last week.
"But this is of course a David and Goliath situation, what happened in Gijon is in the past now."
The task facing Paatelainen's young squad has been made even harder due to the absence of Chievo Verona midfielder Perparim Hetemaj through suspension.
However, Paatelainen is not throwing in the towel and believes Finland can steal a place in the playoffs.
"The group will be decided in the next few games and we will be a difficult opponent," he said. "Everything is still open."
Tight defending will be vital if Finland are to avoid defeat, according to left back Jukka Raitala.
"We know they will hit back hard if they are given too much space," he said on the team's website (www.palloliitto.fi).
"But we will not aim at 0-0," he added. "Surely we must look to score as we are playing at home.
"We have a great chance to show what we can do and again snatch something like the miracle in Gijon." (Additional reporting by Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki; Editing by Sonia Oxley)
- Sports & Recreation
- Cesc Fabregas
- Vicente del Bosque
- Sergio Ramos