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Spain facing injury battle ahead of decisive qualifiers

November 10, 2021 GMT
Barcelona's Ansu Fati, sits injured during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Celta and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo, Spain, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)
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Barcelona's Ansu Fati, sits injured during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Celta and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo, Spain, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)
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Barcelona's Ansu Fati, sits injured during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Celta and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo, Spain, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)

MADRID (AP) — Spain enters its decisive World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Sweden without some key players because of injuries.

Nine players are not available for coach Luis Enrique for the matches at Greece on Thursday and against Sweden on Sunday.

Spain enters its final two matches in second place in Group B, two points behind Sweden and four ahead of third-place Greece. Only the group winners directly qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, while the second-place finishers will have to go through a playoff.

Pedri González, Ferran Torres and Marcos Llorente, who helped lead Spain to the semifinals of the European Championship a few months ago, are among those who couldn’t be called up by Luis Enrique.

Also missing from the Euro 2020 squad are Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal and Eric García.

García was was hurt while playing for Barcelona in the Spanish league, as was young forward Ansu Fati, who was returning to the national team after a long absence because of another injury.

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Yeremi Pino was another player who got injured and had to be replaced after being called up.

Luis Enrique said Wednesday that Mikel Merino also isn’t likely to play on Thursday, though he will remain with the squad.

“We have to focus on what we can control,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m thrilled with the players I was able to bring. Fortunately, I’m a coach who can choose from at least 60 players who have a lot of quality. We are prepared.”

The coach was able to get a few players back after they recovered from recent injuries, including Pau Torres, José Luis Gayà, Jordi Alba, Álvaro Morata and Dani Olmo.

Two victories will be enough for Spain to finish first in its group and qualify for the World Cup without depending on other results.

A draw against Greece will guarantee at least a second-place finish in the group, which would send Spain into the playoffs against the other nine group runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League. The 12 countries will be drawn into three four-team brackets and play next March. Seeded teams getting a home game in the bracket semifinals.

A win by Sweden at fourth-place Georgia on Thursday and a Spain draw against Greece will secure first place for the Swedes.

Spain has qualified for every World Cup since 1978, winning its lone title in 2010 in South Africa. It was eliminated by host Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.

“I can’t imagine a World Cup without Spain,” forward Brahim Díaz said. “We have two finals ahead of us and we have to win them.”

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