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Gerard Pique in spotlight as Spain look to clinch World Cup berth

If Odriozola doesn’t start then the experienced Cesar Azpilicueta will play at right back.

IANS | Madrid |

Spain chief coach Julen Lopetegui will have to make changes in his side as they prepare for a game which will seal their ticket to the 2018 football World Cup in Russia should they win.

Spain play Albania in Alicante on Friday night and with a three point lead over Italy, as well as a vastly superior goal difference, victory will be enough for the Spanish, reports Xinhua news agency.

The run in to the game has been marked by the controversy over Barcelona defender Gerard Pique’s views over the recent Catalan independence referendum and the insults he received while training in Madrid. Although Pique explained his opinions in an eloquent press conference on Wednesday, he is still likely to be the focus of attention (and probably insults) in Alicante.

Key players Dani Carvajal and Sergio Busquets will be missing for the game; Carvajal has a chest infection, while Busquets is suspended. Asier Illaramendi will probably step in to replace Busquets in central midfield, while young defender Alvaro Odriozola could make his debut on the right.

If Odriozola doesn’t start then the experienced Cesar Azpilicueta will play at right back.

Alvaro Morata and Andres Iniesta will also miss the game through injury and Lopetegui will probably compensate for their absence by starting with Real Madrid’s Marcos Asensio playing as a false number ‘9’ and Pedro Rodriguez in a wide role to add pace.

Pedro has been in good form for Chelsea and Lopetegui is known to have confidence in him.

Spain won 2-0 over Albania earlier in the campaign but needed two second half goals to break down a dogged rival and it could be they who will have to be patient again on Friday, but the prize of a ticket to Russia should be worth the wait.