Soccer-Del Bosque faces keeper conundrum before Finland clash


HELSINKI, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has several conundrums to solve before Friday's World Cup 2014 Group I qualifier away to Finland, the trickiest of which is choosing between goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes.

Team captain Casillas, a fixture for the world and European champions for more than a decade and a hero to fans of "La Roja", lost his place in the Real Madrid starting lineup last season under Jose Mourinho and has yet to win it back under new coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Valdes, by contrast, has been on thrilling form for Barcelona, making a strong case for inclusion in the team in Helsinki as Spain seek to maintain their grip on the top spot ahead of France and take a step closer to securing an automatic berth at next year's tournament in Brazil.

Del Bosque told a news conference in the Finnish capital on Thursday he had decided which of the pair would feature but declined to make the decision public.

"We have three extraordinary goalkeepers (including Napoli's Pepe Reina) and any one of them could play perfectly well," the former Real coach told reporters.

Another headache for Del Bosque is the absence of several key outfield performers due to injury, including midfield stalwarts Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, while centre back Gerard Pique is suspended.

With Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara also sidelined, Javi Garcia and Mario Suarez are in the squad as cover for Busquets and Alonso and could get the chance to impress and improve their chances of selection for next year's finals.

A more pressing concern for Del Bosque, however, will be how Spain can break down Finland's stubborn defences.

The qualifier between the two nations in Gijon in March ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw for the home side as they failed to turn their dominance into goals and were undone by a swift Finnish counter-attack late in the game.

Finland are third in the group, four points behind France, and still have a slim chance of stealing a playoff place.


"We have had some very important players pulling out and we have to deal with that," Del Bosque said.

"I don't think we will dominate as much as we did in Gijon because they still have a chance of qualifying and I expect them to go for the win," he added.

"Nonetheless we are going to prepare ourselves for the possibility of playing a team using defensive tactics."

Playmaker Xavi believes the key to the match will be how swiftly Spain can circulate the ball and open up spaces for the forwards to exploit.

"They will let us have the ball and try to strike on the counter-attack or create chances from dead ball situations," he told an earlier news conference.

"We have to maintain possession and be more effective in front of goal than we were in Gijon," he added.

"Last time we struggled a lot. We will try to do better but keeping in mind that it will be very tricky."

He said he was not worried about the goalkeeping position.

"All three goalkeepers in the squad are on top form and the coach will decide what he decides. The keeper's position is in good hands."

Spain, who have 11 points from five of eight group matches, play a friendly against Chile in Geneva on Tuesday before their final two qualifiers at home to Belarus and Georgia next month. (Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Clare Fallon)

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