MADRID (AP) Andres Iniesta will lead Spain in its World Cup qualifying matches against Italy and Albania after returning from injury.
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Spain will be seeking to avenge a loss to Italy at the European Championship that ended the team’s bid for a third consecutive continental title.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui named Iniesta to his squad on Friday for the upcoming away qualifiers Oct. 6 and 9.
“The return of Andres is very good news for us,” Lopetegui said. “He has played consistently for the past month. We are happy he is here, above all given the rivals we have to face.”
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas was not included in Lopetegui’s squad after losing his place in Antonio Conte‘s starting lineup for most of this season.
The most notable inclusion was Napoli forward Jose Callejon in place of new Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer, who was dropped. He will join an attack consisting of Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Manuel “Nolito” Agudo and Victor “Vitolo” Machin.
Midfielder Francisco “Isco” Alarcon returned to the squad in detriment of Real Madrid teammate Marco Asensio. Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez and Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico were also back after missing Lopetegui’s first list.
The 2-0 loss to Italy in the round-of-16 of Euro 2016 marked the end of Vicente del Bosque’s long and successful stint as Spain’s manager. Lopetegui has since been tasked with rejuvenating a team that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
Under Lopetegui, Spain beat Lichtenstein 8-0 its first qualifier for the 2018 World Cup after beating Belgium in a friendly in his debut. Iniesta missed those two matches with a knee injury.
Both Italy and Albania won their opening qualifiers in Group G.
While Italy is clearly Spain’s main rival for the group, Albania is riding high after winning its first match at a major tournament at Euro 2016.
“These are two important matches, but they are not definitive,” Lopetegui said. “We know how tough they will be and we are motivated to meet the challenge. We will not settle for draws.”
Defenders: Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich).
Midfielders: Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Francisco “Isco” Alarcon (Real Madrid).
Forwards: Jose Callejon (Napoli), Victor “Vitolo” Machin (Sevilla), Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Chelsea), Manuel “Nolito” Agudo (Manchester City).