Controversy over Torres substitution clouds Spain's start

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The Independent Football

After a 4-1 rout of Russia, complete with a David Villa hat-trick, there should certainly have been plenty for Spain to discuss ahead of tonight's Group D encounter with Sweden in Innsbruck. But, as ever, the focus in the build up to the game has been over what is not right for this most demanding of nations.

The substitution of Fernando Torres against Russia, and the relegation to the bench of the man who replaced him on Tuesday, Cesc Fabregas, has enjoyed more analysis than anything else that has taken place in the Spanish camp in the last few days, despite such a joyous and impressive performance.

But then Fabregas has appeared irritated about questions regarding his substitute's role, while Torres did not shake the hand of the Spain coach, Luis Aragones, when he trudged off. Not that Torres was going to say anything in public about it. "The code of the locker room, which Luis taught me when I was 16, is what is said in the locker room stays there," the Liverpool striker said. "Never would I make a bad gesture toward the coach. All of us players are ready to die for him. I was angry with myself and it isn't true that I refused to shake the coach's hand."

Aragones added that he would not be surprised if Torres – who has been substituted 22 times in his 40 games under the 69-year-old coach – was unhappy, while midfielder Sergio Garcia said: "With Torres, there is nothing in it. These are things that happen. It's not trouble. Everyone here wants to play and there are no problems."

Nevertheless, Fabregas has also had to deal with questions over his relationship with team-mate Xavi and even issued a statement denying there were problems between the two Catalan midfielders.

"I don't want to speak about this, which seems to me a stupid thing that has been invented by someone and I don't know for what motive," Fabregas, who has lost his place to Xavi, said. "Playing beside Xavi is one of the greatest things that can happen to you if you're a football player. He is someone fantastic."

The likelihood is that Aragones will elect for an unchanged line-up against the Swedes, even though Fabregas created one goal and scored another on Tuesday, knowing that a victory for either side will secure their passage into the last eight.

If Spain's problems appear insubstantial, Sweden have very real injury concerns over what is the oldest squad in the tournament. They have lost midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson for the rest of the competition, after he tore a hamstring in the 2-0 win over Greece, with coach Lars Lagerback having to decide whether to play Birmingham's Sebastian Larsson on the right of midfield or use striker Johan Elmander. Niclas Alexandersson, their makeshift right-back, is also out with a calf injury.

The two teams know each other well, having progressed through the same qualifying group to reach Euro 2008, each winning their home matches against one another. "It's going to be a big challenge," Fredrik Ljungberg, the Sweden captain, said.

Spain are concerned about Sweden's strikers, especially Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored for his country for the first time in almost three years against Greece. There is some concern over his swollen knee but he should play. "When we get the chance we have to go on the attack," Ljungberg added. "We have to hit them on the break."

Spain (probable, 4-1-3-2): Casillas (Real Madrid); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Marchena (Valencia), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Senna (Villarreal); Silva (Valencia), Xavi (Barcelona), Iniesta (Barcelona); Torres (Liverpool), Villa (Valencia).

Sweden (probable, 4-4-2): Isaksson (Manchester City); Stoor (Rosenborg), Mellberg (Juventus), Hansson (Rennes), Nilsson (Panathinaikos); S Larsson (Birmingham City), Svensson (Elfsborg), Andersson (Malmo), Ljungberg (West Ham); Ibrahimovic (Internazionale), H Larsson (Helsingborgs).

Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).

Sweden v Spain Today, 17.00, Innsbruck, ITV1

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