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Spain go into Saturday’s Group A opener with Russia concerned about the fitness of midfielder David Albelda.

Albelda, who was expected to start in the center alongside Xabi Alonso, missed training on Wednesday and is considered doubtful with a leg problem.

“He has a sight strain in the quadriceps muscle in his right leg,” said Spanish team doctor Genaro Borras.

“When these small injuries occur it is best to stop so they do not develop into anything serious.”

Should Albelda not make the starting line up then Valencia team-mate Ruben Baraja will deputize. However, midfield is not the only selection headache coach facing Spanish coach Inaki Saez.

The former Spanish Under-21 boss will have to decide which goalkeeper to start with; a choice between Real Madrid number one Iker Casillas and the ever-unconventional Santiago Canizares. Both keepers are experienced having won more than 35 caps apiece and though Casillas remains the slight first choice, Canizares is refusing to give up hope.

“Whether I play is a matter for the manager,” said the Valencia stopper.

“I have worked very hard to get here and I hope to keep working to make it difficult for the manager.”

The Spanish have a well documented record of under-achieveing at major tournaments. This, despite boasting some of Europe’s finest talents, which currently includes captain Raul and youngster Fernando Torres. However, this time around, the players are confident they can play to their potential.

“We’re really looking forward to Saturday night now,” claims defender Ivan Helgura.

“I think our preparation has been very good.”

Spain will be without influential right-back Michael Salgardo who injured his leg in their previous match against Andorra. The full-back will miss the whole competition, meaning a shift in positions for Carles Puyol from left-back to right in order to accommodate Raul Bravo, who is likely to start on the right.

The Russians have been unlucky with injuries. International captain Victor Onopko has been ruled out of the competition through a knee injury while central defensive partner Sergi Ignashevich is also out with an ankle injury. This leaves replacements Demitri Sennikov and Roamn Sharonov. However, both have just returned from long absences and are not considered match fit.

Russia’s other worry is the officiating.

“Playing in the same group as Spain who are almost seen as co-hosts and the hosts Portugal and officiating has to worry you in a certain way,” suggested Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin.

“Imagine that match with 30,000 Spaniards in the stadium (when Russia play Spain) – let’s not fool ourselves. No one wants Portugal and Spain out in the first phase. That can be counted on,” Alexander Mostovoi told Spanish sports daily Marca on the eve of the match.

Nonetheless, the coach Georgi Yartesv has been critisised for adopting an ultra-defensive approach for the matches against Portugal and Spain, before going gung-ho against Greece in the hope of qualifying unbeaten.

It is a suggestion the coach denies.

“I will not set the team up to simply avoid defeat that would be silly!” said Yartsev.

The last time the teams met were in 1998 when Spain won 1-0, however their most famous encounter came in this competition in 1964 when the teams met in the final, which Spain also won, 2-1.

Probable teams:

Spain: Casillas, Heguera, Marchena, Puyol, Raul Bravo, Xabi Alonso, Vicente, Albelda, Valeron, Raul, Etxeberria
Russia: Ovchinnnikov, Evseev, Sennikov, Solomatin, Sharonov, Alenichev, Karyaka, Loskov, Gusev, Bulykin, Sychev
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland)

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