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Spain: Luis Enrique staying despite personal problem

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation has dismissed concerns about coach Luis Enrique leaving the national team.

The federation has not considered replacing him despite his long absence for personal reasons, it said on Friday.

Luis Enrique missed the first round of qualifiers for the European Championship this year and will miss the next round in June because of an undisclosed personal problem.

“The federation remains fully committed with the coach of the national team,” federation sports director Jose Francisco Molina said. “The federation never considered making a change and our position has been relayed to him. The mutual commitment remains intact. For us there were never any doubts, and we hope to be able to count on the coach for a long time.”

Molina dismissed Spanish media reports the federation was looking for a possible replacement for the coach, and said Luis Enrique has also never showed any sign he was considering leaving the national team.

“It never came up,” Molina said. “The mutual goal is to remain together.”

Molina said there was no timeline for Luis Enrique’s return, adding that during “this difficult moment” the federation is making sure it gives its unconditional support to him.

Neither the federation nor Luis Enrique have disclosed details about the problem that has kept him sidelined since March, when he had to abandon the team camp just before its qualifying match at Malta.

Molina spoke before assistant coach Robert Moreno made the squad announcement for the qualifiers against the Faeroe Islands and Sweden in June.

Moreno said Luis Enrique remains very active and in close communication with his staff, and made all the final decisions regarding the players summoned on Friday. He said the coach will continue to follow the team’s practices and matches remotely.

“He is still working with us, the dynamic remains the same,” said Moreno, who also replaced Luis Enrique on the bench in the first two qualifiers. “We’ll have him close to us throughout the training camp.”

Spain plays at the Faeroe Islands on June 7, then hosts Sweden at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium three days later. It leads Group F with six points, two more than Sweden and three more than both Romania and Malta.

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Casillas released from hospital after heart attack

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Iker Casillas has been released from hospital after he suffered a heart attack last Wednesday.

The FC Porto goalkeeper, 37, spoke to reporters outside of the CUF hospital in Porto, Portugal on Monday, as he thanked the medical teams at the hospital and FC Porto for their work as the team medics responded immediately to his issue in training last week.

Casillas also thanked the entire soccer world for their well wishes, as messages poured in from across the globe for the legendary goalkeeper.

“A few days ago I went through a difficult situation, something that can happen at any moment of life, but fortunately I’m fine. I am grateful and feel that I am very lucky. Thank you to all who cared, for I felt very dear and cherished. I can only get out of this situation with a smile.”

Casillas won five La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles during his 17-year career with Real Madrid, and has spent the past four seasons at FC Porto. He also captained Spain to the 2010 World Cup and back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

What does the future hold for Casillas?

“I feel much better and now it will be a rest for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, I do not know, but the most important thing is to be here. Thank you all,” Casillas said. “I do not know what the future will be, but the most important thing is to be here, to be able to speak and transmit to everyone as I am and how I feel. Thank you very much and see you soon.”

Real Madrid sends ‘Stay strong’ message to Casillas

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Real Madrid’s players and fans took a moment before Sunday’s 3-2 Spanish league win over Villarreal to send messages of support to former star goalkeeper Iker Casillas as he recovers from a heart attack.

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Players posed for a team photo wearing T-shirts that said in Spanish “Iker, we are all with you,” while spectators at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium chanted his name and unfurled a huge banner saying “Madrid fans are with you. Stay strong, eternal captain.”

The 37-year-old Casillas fell ill while training for his club, FC Porto, on Wednesday and remains hospitalized after undergoing a catheterization. Porto’s doctors said the former Spain goalkeeper is expected to fully recover, but it is too early to know if he can keep playing professionally.

Casillas was a fan favorite during his 16 seasons with Madrid, where he won three Champions League and five Spanish league trophies. Casillas also helped Spain to win the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships. He joined Portuguese club Porto in 2015.

Against Villarreal, Madrid bounced back from a 0-0 draw at Getafe and a 1-0 loss at relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano as it struggles to compete consistently despite the return of coach Zinedine Zidane.

Barcelona clinched the league title last week and, with Madrid in a distant third place, all the talk in the Spanish capital is what the club will do in the offseason to shake up its squad.

Little used striker Mariano Diaz and defender Jesus Vallejo responded to their rare starts Sunday by scoring. Diaz struck twice, while Vallejo got his first goal for the club. Gerard Moreno and Juame Costa scored for Villarreal.

Madrid’s Vinicius Junior returned as a late substitute after two months sidelined with a leg injury.

GETAFE FOUTH

Getafe is trying to join Madrid, second-place Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the Champions League next season.

The modest club moved back ahead of Sevilla into fourth place and the final spot for Europe’s top club competition after beating Girona 2-0 at home.

Jorge Molina continued his excellent season at age 37 by scoring his 14th league goal before Angel Rodriguez put the result beyond doubt.

Also, Eibar edged Real Betis 1-0.

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Spain approves changes to Copa del Rey and Super Cup

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation approved format changes to the Copa del Rey and the Super Cup on Monday despite opposition from the Spanish league.

The Copa del Rey will be played in single-match series until the semifinals, while the Spanish Super Cup will adopt a “final four” format with the top finishers in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

The changes are expected to take effect at the beginning of next season, although the Spanish league could still appeal the federation’s decision, which was approved during its general assembly.

The Spanish league voted last week in its own general assembly not to support the changes, saying it should have been directly involved in the discussions.

The federation said the changes will help reduce the number of games for clubs and players.

Federation president Luis Rubiales said last week the entity was considering playing the new Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, prompting some criticism by human rights groups who have denounced conditions in the Middle East nation.

The competition has been played at the beginning of the season in a one-game final between the Copa del Rey and the league champions. The final four will now be played in January.

Last year’s final, won by Barcelona against Sevilla, was played in Tangier, Morocco.

The Spanish federation also approved changes aimed at giving more visibility and improving women’s soccer. The women’s league will have two divisions and a Super Cup will be created.

The federation said it will take actions to increase the number of professional women’s players and the number of girls involved in the sport.

EURO qualifying: A pair of 3-3 draws, feat. 3 stoppage-time goals

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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in 2020 European Championship qualification…

[ MORE: Report: Solskjaer to be named new United boss this week ]

Italy 6-0 Liechtenstein

Italy thrashed Liechtenstein on the back of two penalty kicks converted by Fabio Quagliarella (35th and 45th minutes), along with individual tallies from Stefano Sensi (17th), Marco Veratti (32nd), Moise Kean (70′) and Leonardo Pavoletti (76th).

With two victories from two games, and a +8 goal difference now in tow, Italy sit perched high atop Group J. With two sides set to qualify from the six-team group, it’s just about impossible to conjure up a scenario in which the Azzurri don’t qualify with more than a couple qualifiers still remaining.

Malta 0-2 Spain

Alvaro Morata bagged a brace (31st and 73rd minutes) to help Spain to a comfortable, if slightly labored, victory over Malta. Spain enjoyed a healthy 80 percent of possession and out-shot Malta by a margin of 23-2 (7-1 on target).

The only side with six points from their first two games, Spain lead Group F by two points over Sweden.

Switzerland 3-3 Denmark

The game of the day.

Remo Freuler put Switzerland ahead after 19 minutes. It would stay that way until the final 25 minutes, when a massive explosion of goals saw the game quickly get out of hand, in the most unimaginable of ways.

Granti Xhaka made it 2-0 in the 66th, and Breel Embolo made it 3-0 in the 76th. That was it, the game was over, done and dusted, right? Wrong.

Mathias Jorgensen brought Denmark back to 3-1 in the 84th, followed by Christian Gytkjaer in the 88th for 3-1. Deep into stoppage time — as in, three minutes deep — Henrik Dalsgaard completed the comeback with a header to clean up a mad scramble of failed headed clearances inside the penalty area.

Norway 3-3 Sweden

While also a six-goal thriller with stoppage-time drama, Sweden’s comeback was only from 2-0 down.

Bjoern Maars Johnsen (41st) and Joshua King (59th) established the lead just before the hour mark, and everything was going exactly to play for Norway. That remained the case until the 70th minute, when scored Viktor Claesson from open play. Norway scored again in the 86th minute, only Havard Nordtveit put the ball into his own net, which drew the Swedes level.

Robin Quaison gave Sweden the lead in the 91st minute, surely sealing all three points in a memorable comeback, right? Wrong again. Ola Kamara’s 96th-minute equalizer meant a 3-3 draw that neither side would be happy with, nor particularly dissatisfied.

Elsewhere in EURO 2010 qualifying

Group D

Ireland 1-0 Georgia

Group F

Romania 4-1 Faroe Islands

Group J

Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-2 Greece
Armenia 0-2 Finland