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Football

De la Pena earns call-up for Spain


story.pena.jpg
De la Pena (left) is in line to make his debut for Spain at the age of 28

MADRID, Spain -- Espanyol midfielder Ivan de la Pena has been given a long-awaited squad call-up by Spain coach Luis Aragones for next week's World Cup Group Seven qualifier with San Marino.

Real Zaragoza striker David Villa and Villarreal midfielder Antonio Guayre have also drafted in for the first time to add some new blood to his squad.

"De la Pena is a quality player and one of the most effective providers of scoring passes in Spain," said Aragones.

"Villa is a natural goalscorer and has an extraordinary future ahead of him, while Guayre is in great shape and is very versatile."

There are no places for English-based players Jose Antonio Reyes and Fernando Morientes, nor for former regulars Real Madrid defender Ivan Helguera, Valencia midfielder Ruben Baraja and Deportivo Coruna playmaker Juan Carlos Valeron.

Spain are in third place in their group behind Lithuania and Serbia & Montenegro having won one and drawn two of their first three qualifiers.

If they win Wednesday's game they will join Lithuania on eight points from four games, just two behind leaders Serbia & Montenegro.

"On paper they are inferior to us so our aim is to score as many goals as possible so that we don't lose out to our rivals on goal difference," said Aragones.

De la Pena was tipped to be one of Spain's most exciting prospects for the future when he broke into the first team at Barcelona 10 years ago, but he faded out of the reckoning after he was off-loaded by the Catalans in 1998.

Subsequent spells at Lazio, Marseille and a brief return to Barcelona failed to bring the best out of the talented central midfielder, but he finally regained his confidence after joining Espanyol two seasons ago.

Now 28, he has played an instrumental role in leading the Barcelona-based side to a surprise fourth place in the Primera Liga and his defence-splitting passes have provided a fruitful supply line for the club's forwards.

Zaragoza striker Villa and Villarreal attacking midfielder Guayre have also been in impressive form this season.

Villa, who notched up 17 goals in his first campaign in the top flight, has added another eight this season, including a virtuoso solo effort in his side's 3-1 defeat at Real Madrid.

Former Las Palmas winger Guayre gets the nod ahead of Arsenal's Reyes, who has gone off the boil in recent weeks.

The 24-year-old has a devastating turn of pace and has played a leading role in helping Villarreal become the most exciting attacking side in Spain.

Apart from the addition of the three new players, Aragones has kept faith with the bulk of the squad that claimed an impressive 1-0 win over England in a friendly international in November.

Atletico Madrid defender Pablo Ibanez keeps his place ahead of Real's Helguera, while the in-form Guti is also in the squad.

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso is out with a broken ankle and Valencia's David Albelda is suspended for the San Marino game.

Captain Raul and Atletico's Fernando Torres join Villa as the three main forwards in the squad despite the fact that neither player has been in particularly good form.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Santiago Canizares (Valencia)

Defenders: Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Michel Salgado (Real Madrid), Asier del Horno (Athletic Bilbao), Enrique Romero (Deportivo Coruna), Pablo Ibanez (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Ivan de la Pena (Espanyol), Joaquin (Real Betis), Xavi (Barcelona), Guti (Real Madrid), Albert Luque (Deportivo Coruna), Pablo Orbaiz (Athletic Bilbao), Antonio Guayre (Villarreal)

Forwards: Raul (Real Madrid), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), David Villa (Real Zaragoza)


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