Spain is searching for a striker to lead the team against Venezuela on Wednesday in its last match before coach Vicente del Bosque names his squad for the European Championship.
With all-time top scorer David Villa injured and struggling Chelsea striker Fernando Torres dropped for the first time in five years, Del Bosque has turned to Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente and Valencia’s Roberto Soldado for the friendly at La Rosaleda Stadium in Malaga.
Villa and Torres may still make the squad for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. But if not, Wednesday’s game could be a tryout for a starter come this summer.
"I really wanted to be back on the team," said Soldado, whose last appearance for Spain came in 2007. "For a striker, the goals make the difference whether you get the call-up or not. I know the competition will be tough and that after the game with Venezuela there are three months to go which will determine if I go to the Euros or not."
Llorente and Soldado have each scored 20 goals in all competitions for their clubs this season, but questions remain over which is the better fit for Spain’s passing game modeled on Barcelona’s style of play.
While Spain is even shorter on strikers after Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo was ruled out on Monday with a muscle injury, Del Bosque will likely compensate by loading his starting 11 with creative attacking players.
Del Bosque has Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, David Silva (Manchester City), Juan Mata (Chelsea) and 19-year-old Bilbao forward Iker Muniain— in his first ever call-up for the senior squad— to choose from.
Muniain recently scored both of Bilbao’s goals against Lokomotiv Moscow to set up a meeting with Manchester United in the Europa League.
"We have seen it for some time now that the coach believes in young players, and for us it is very important," said Muniain, one of four Bilbao players to make the squad. "Maybe it seems that all this is going too fast since I am still very young, but I try to stay calm.
"We are convinced that there will be a great turnout in Malaga and we hope to get the win."
Besides preparing for this summer, Del Bosque can also set a new record.
The former Real Madrid manager is one goal away from matching Javier Clemente as the coach who has guided the national team to the highest number of goals. Clemente, the current Sporting Gijon coach, saw Spain score 126 goals in 62 games from the sideline. Spain has scored 125 goals in 51 games since Del Bosque took over following the 2008 European Championship.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who has been slowed down by a nagging leg problem lately, didn’t practice on Monday and could sit the match out.
Venezuela will be looking to avenge its 3-0 loss to the world champions last summer in Puerto La Cruz. That was the last friendly match that Spain won. While winning all eight of its qualifying matches for the upcoming European Championships, Spain has drawn with Costa Rica and lost to England and Italy since then.
Malaga striker Jose Rondon will lead Venezuela along with Nicolas "Miku" Fedor, who also plays in Spain’s topflight for Getafe.
Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta, who was born in Venezuela to Basque parents, is doubtful with a left foot injury.
After Del Bosque releases his final squad in May, Spain will play a warmup against China and at least one other friendly before heading to the European Championships from 8 June to 1 July.
Spain opens the tournament against Italy on 10 June. It also plays Ireland and Croatia in Group C.
Spain is aiming to become the first World Cup winner to defend its European title.
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