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World champion Spain takes on Finland in Group I

September 4, 2013

HELSINKI (AP) — Nearly six months after the “Miracle of Gijon,” Finland is out to make things tough for Spain again.

The Finns earned a surprise 1-1 draw at Spain in March in a World Cup qualifying match. But despite the result, Spain still leads Group I ahead of France heading into Friday’s match in Helsinki.

“It’ll be David against Goliath. But they (the Spaniards) know that we can make life difficult for them,” Finland coach Mixu Paatelainen said. “I think it’ll be a highly interesting match.”

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be without first-choice midfielders Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets — both are injured — and must decide whether to retain Iker Casillas as goalkeeper and captain.

Del Bosque had hinted that Casillas would remain as his preferred goalkeeper, but the 32-year-old Real Madrid player remains on the bench at his club. The coach could instead opt for Victor Valdes or Pepe Reina.

Del Bosque has also left out Chelsea forwards Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, although Torres scored a fierce volley against Bayern Munich in Super Cup on Friday.

Instead, Del Bosque will likely rely on Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa or Jesus Navas in attack.

“We have to win,” Rodriguez said. “They are not going to make things easy for us. It’s a very important match for us. It’s going to challenge us, but we are thinking of winning, and of course doing so by using our usual style of play, that’s the way to achieve the victory.”

A win against Finland will give Spain 14 points at the top of Group I standings after six games.

In the absence of Busquets (thigh strain) and Inigo Martinez (hamstring), Del Bosque had to make late changes. He called up Javi Garcia and 23-year-old Ignacio “Nacho” Fernandez.

When the teams last met, Teemu Pukki scored a 79th-minute equalizer after Spain had dominated possession throughout in Gijon.

Finland midfielder Kasper Hamalainen said the draw gave his team “sparkles of hope.”

“I’m sure Spain has carefully analyzed the Gijon match,” Hamalainen said. “The truth is they were quite toothless against us in March. It’s difficult to say whether they’ll change the way they play in any way.”

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