Villa boost for Spain as favorites begin defense
MADRID - Favourites Spain start the defence of their world title away to Georgia on Tuesday when coach Vicente del Bosque will have another chance to test the form of record marksman David Villa, recently returned from eight months out with a broken leg.
The 30-year-old Barcelona striker, who sat out Spain's triumphant Euro 2012 campaign, came off the bench to score in his first game back for both club and country and his eye for goal appears as sharp as ever.
His strike from the penalty spot in Friday's 5-0 friendly victory against Saudi Arabia was his 52nd goal for his country on his 83rd appearance and he told reporters afterwards the surgery to repair his leg had been a complete success.
"I have not felt any concern since the first day I returned to training seven weeks ago and there has been no problem since the operation," Villa said.
"I am building up muscle tone, confidence and strength in my movement," he added.
"I have been training a long time now and the body is adapting but whether I can play from the beginning is a decision for the coach."
Villa was an automatic starter for Del Bosque at the 2010 World Cup but without him at Euro 2012 the coach alternated between playing Fernando Torres as a lone striker and using Cesc Fabregas as a roving forward.
Villa's return adds another attacking option to a team who have swept all before them since winning Euro 2008.
The world's top-ranked side are on a 22-match winning streak in European Championship and World Cup qualifiers, last failing to win in a 1-1 draw in Iceland in September 2007.
"Villa is a man who loves scoring goals," his in-form Barca and Spain team mate Pedro, who netted twice against Saudi Arabia, told a news conference on Saturday.
"We knew the injury was very serious but he has made a spectacular recovery and he is continuing to build fitness, confidence and rhythm."
France will likely be the main threat to the Spanish in Group I, which is completed by Belarus and Finland.
France and Georgia are joint top on three points after they won their opening qualifiers on Friday away to Finland and at home to Belarus respectively.
Georgia were indebted to goalkeeper Giorgi Loria for keeping the Belarussians at bay as Tornike Okriashvili scored the only goal of the match six minutes into the second half in Tbilisi. (Editing by Ed Osmond)