Luis Enrique lauded Spain "pillar" Sergio Busquets after his exploits in the country's trophy-less Nations League Finals campaign.

Spain fell short in Sunday's Nations League final, beaten 2-1 by reigning world champions France at San Siro in Milan.

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe cancelled out Mikel Oyarzabal's 64th-minute opener and while Spain were left emptyhanded, veteran captain Busquets produced another impressive display in the middle of the nation's rebuilding project.

Busquets provided his 10th assist for Spain and first since November 2019 having teed up Oyarzabal, while the 33-year-old captain led the team in tackles (four) and total duels (17) after finishing with a 92.2 per cent passing accuracy – only bettered by Eric Garcia for La Roja.

"Busquets has been named the best player of the tournament. That says a lot about his level. He's vital for us. He's the captain, but not only that," Luis Enrique said during his post-match news conference.

"He's also somebody who gives some values off the pitch and on the pitch. He gives you calmness, quietness. He's our pillar on which our defensive and attacking game are based.

"How much we've won, I don't know, but I know we were able to win against the European champions and play almost evenly with the world champions, so for the players and the team, that is all good.

"And of course, every time it will be more difficult for me to make the next selection, and that is good for me and good for us. The important thing is the team maintains its personality and will to win."

Spain ended the decider with 63.9 per cent possession and 624 passes, compared to France's 354 total passes.

Luis Enrique's Spain were left to rue a missed opportunity, having lost to eventual champions Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

"Nothing was missing. It was a shame that once we scored that opening goal, that France went up the other end. It was a shame to concede when we just scored, because that's when France were at their weakest. That's the only regret we can have," the former Barcelona boss added.

"What are we missing? We're not missing anything at all. We still need to keep that same confidence, and we need to try press ahead with what we've been doing." 

"As usual, no matter who we're playing against, Spain will always play its game," Luis Enrique said. "Sometimes we play a bit better than other times, but that's normal. But I think all fans would agree that Spain always plays the same way. No matter where, no matter against whom. So I am satisfied with what I have seen this tournament."

Karim Benzema hailed France's comeback ability as a sign of a "great team" after Les Bleus fought back to defeat Spain 2-1 and claim the 2021 Nations League.

The Real Madrid forward equalised after Mikel Oyarzabal opened the scoring, the seventh time in 2021 France have fallen behind first – three more times than any other calendar year.

Kylian Mbappe then scored the winner after 80 minutes, his fourth goal involvement at the Finals – more than any other player – to secure Les Bleus' second trophy in three attempts after winning the 2018 World Cup and faltering at Euro 2020.

Didier Deschamps' side are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, and Benzema pinpointed the team's comeback ability as a hallmark of how good they are.

"It's a dream evening on a collective and personal level," Benzema told M6 post-match.

"I really wanted to win a trophy with the France team, today it's done. It was a difficult match against a very good team. We have shown the strength of character.

"This team is very strong, it never gives up and we have proven it again today. It is the sign of great teams: [they] do not panic and wait for the right moment.

"We will first take advantage of this trophy and go for the World Cup."

Paul Pogba, who dominated the final with team-high figures in both touches (77) and passes (42), echoed Benzema's sentiments while bemoaning France's tendency to start slowly in games.

"It's true that we started badly," Pogba said to M6 after the game. "[It was] another first period where we were dominated by Spain [and] we had to react after a goal.

"We have to do better, we know that. But the result is victory at the end. If that's how we have to win, why not like that?

"It's always good to go for trophies. We always [have a] thirst for trophies, we are never satisfied."

Luis Enrique has no doubts about the quality of his Spain team but accepts their Nations League final opponents France have the best collection of individuals in international football.

Spain defeated European champions Italy in their semi-final on Wednesday, ending the Azzurri's world-record 37 match unbeaten run in the process.

World champions France await in the finale, with Didier Deschamps' men having come from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 3-2, which was the first time they had reversed a two-goal deficit since May 2012.

Spain's starting XI last time out was the youngest (average age of 26.8 years) of the four teams involved in the Nations League semis, and prior to their win over Italy, Luis Enrique had the impression they were most people's outside bets for the trophy.

But he relished causing something of an upset and believes they are capable of doing so again.

He told reporters: "I am convinced that we are going to have a great game and that we are going to put France in difficulty.

"I don't know if it will be enough to win us, but for us it is a very great encouragement.

"In the semi-finals we were the underdogs of the four teams and we turned that feeling around. Now we will try to do the same against the best team in the world – at an individual level, without a doubt.

"We are going to defend as we always do, by taking risks and playing face-to-face, trying to make sure that the only ball on the field is Spain's."

La Roja have certainly done a reasonable job in that respect in previous Nations League games, given they have had the most shots (126), shots on target (46), the best passing success (90.8 per cent) and best average possession (67.7 per cent) in this edition of the competition.

Luis Enrique still thinks they can get better, though.

"We still have the trump card of being a team," he continued. "We can still be a better team, we can still improve our performance.

"This is a wonderful sport that rewards those who play the best, we will try to be better than them collectively and make it happen."

But that is not to say Luis Enrique is underestimating the weapons France possess, with their front three of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann – who is one match away from becoming only the ninth Les Bleus centurion – capable of doing damage.

"The power and quality of their front three is indisputable," Luis Enrique added. "They are very good and capable of deciding any match based on their individual quality.

"But we are not going to change one iota of what has brought us here, our ambition, our conviction and our quality."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed Gavi's performance after his record-breaking debut in Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy on Wednesday.

Gavi became Spain's youngest ever player, aged 17 years and 62 days, in the clash at San Siro.

The Barcelona midfielder completed 94.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition's half – a total only bettered by one other Spanish starter – while he contested a game-high 19 duels and made more tackles (four) than any team-mate.

He looked at home on the big stage, and Luis Enrique compared his display to the kind he might serve up in his garden at home.

"He plays like he does at school or in the garden of his house, and it is a pleasure to have a player of this quality and personality," he told reporters.

Spain's victory ended Italy's world-record 37-match unbeaten run and booked a spot in Sunday's Nations League final where they will play France or Belgium, who face off in Thursday's other semi-final.

The triumph was sealed by two goals from Manchester City forward Ferran Torres either side of Leonardo Bonucci's dismissal for the Azzurri before half-time.

 

Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled one back for Roberto Mancini's side late on, but La Roja held firm to record a memorable win against the side who beat them in the Euro 2020 semi-final in July.

"We have once again created chances, and we have overcome them," Luis Enrique added.

"It was a very good game with two sides showing their best. It is very difficult with only one-and-a-half training sessions to transmit what you want, but the players have been very involved, as always.

"The best thing since I've been with the national team is that we've managed to play our game, regardless of the rival and the tournament. I am privileged, because I have a list of 40 or 50 extraordinary players."

France head coach Didier Deschamps believes FIFA's proposed biennial World Cup plan will trivialise the tournament.

FIFA, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, want to shift the World Cup format to see an edition take place every two years.

The former Arsenal manager's proposal would cause further scheduling issues for international footballers with an already heavy workload for club and country.

However, after both UEFA and CONMEBOL pushed back against the idea, Deschamps warned of devaluing football's showpiece event, though he appreciates any change will likely not come during his tenure with Les Bleus.

"To be honest, my first feeling in my playing career, being able to move on to a World Cup every two years, it makes me feel like I'm trivialising it," Deschamps told reporters on Thursday.

"That's the best word I can think of. I do not have all the ins and outs. I will not be the expert but until now, every four years, it was very good like that. We are used to it.

"Afterwards, it is according to the interests of each other. If the majority is there, it can pass. I think at that time, I wouldn't be concerned anymore. So I would watch."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique is also concerned about the problems it may force on footballers' workloads, though he accepts it would improve the overall experience for spectators.

"To unify a calendar and to have attractive possibilities for the viewer it is necessary in order for football to keep being attractive to young generations and to the world in general," he said.

"But it is obvious that the calendar needs to be reduced. I am not the right or capable person to advise from where it would need to be reduced.

"A World Cup every two years, as a national coach I would be delighted, of course. But a reduction is needed. And I don't know from where this reduction must come."

Luis Enrique has no interest in replacing Ronald Koeman at Barcelona while he is still under contract as Spain head coach.

Koeman is under growing pressure at Camp Nou following Wednesday's 3-0 defeat to Benfica, which makes it back-to-back defeats for Barca to begin a Champions League campaign for the first time ever.

The Catalan giants have now won just one of their past five matches in all competitions ahead of Saturday's trip to reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid.

According to reports from Spain, Barca chiefs will consider replacing Koeman during the upcoming international break should they fall to another defeat this weekend.

Luis Enrique is rumoured to be one of the club's top choices to take over should Koeman leave, but the former Blaugrana boss intends to serve the rest of his contract with Spain, which is due to expire after the World Cup in December 2022.

Asked if Barcelona president Joan Laporta had contacted him regarding the position, Luis Enrique said: "I don't think he has my phone number.

"I'm a coach here for a second time, and it's my custom to keep my word. I'll be here until my contract ends, for sure.

"Despite my proud history with that club, I don't want to get involved in other people's business."

Luis Enrique, who won nine trophies across a hugely successful three-year spell in charge of Barca, was speaking at a news conference on Thursday after announcing Spain's 23-man squad for the upcoming Nations League Finals.

Spain face European champions Italy in next Wednesday's semi-final at San Siro, with the winners of that match to take on either Belgium or France in the final four days later.

 

The high-profile match in Milan presents La Roja with a chance to exact some revenge following their penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 semi-finals a little under three months ago.

The Azzurri went on to beat England on penalties in the final and have remained unbeaten in their three World Cup qualifiers since that Wembley triumph.

Roberto Mancini's men set a new all-time record of 37 matches without defeat in men's international football with their 5-0 win over Lithuania earlier this month, surpassing the benchmark previously set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

"Italy are at their peak and were deserving champions at the Euros," Luis Enrique told reporters. "They have continued with that streak since then, but the day they lose for the first time is near. 

"We were capable of beating them in the tournament, but we didn't. This game will demand a lot from us as they are a team of the highest level, which is where we want to be.

"Whichever players I select on the day, I hope it will be another spectacular game."

Barcelona teenager Gavi has been called up by Spain head coach Luis Enrique for the first time ahead of the upcoming Nations League Finals.

The La Masia product made his senior bow at club level in last month's 2-1 win over Getafe as a second-half substitute and has featured a further five times in all competitions.

At 17 years and 49 days, Gavi became the second-youngest player to make his full debut for the Catalans in last week's stalemate with Cadiz, behind only Ansu Fati (16 years, 318 days).

He is now in line to make his first appearance for Spain in next Wednesday's Nations League semi-final clash with European champions Italy at San Siro, with the winners of that match to face either Belgium or France in the final four days later.

Explaining his decision to call up the youngster, Luis Enrique said at a news conference on Thursday: "I like what I have seen from him. His level has surprised me.

"I have known about him for a long time as he's a player from La Masia. I have no doubt about his future performances.

"With there being players absent I can have a look at others. It's a shame for those who are not with us, but now others can join up.

"Gavi still has to improve, of course, but with and without the ball he can contribute to the side. Seeing what I have seen so far, he will be up to the task.

"It would be risky to put a young player in the side. Perhaps he has been called up too early, but he may still start against Italy. We will see if he can adapt to our side."

While Gavi is preparing to link up with the national side, fellow Barca youngster Fati has not been included by Luis Enrique having only just returned from a serious knee injury.

"It is a joy to see him back, and yes, with him playing again I wanted to bring him back, even if it was not to play and for him to just be with us," Luis Enrique said. 

"We have to put that situation in context, and right now the best option is that he is not with us and that he continues playing and adding minutes for his club."

Gavi is not alone in earning a first call-up to the senior squad as Yeremy is also included after scoring one goal and setting three up for Villarreal in five LaLiga games this term.

Only five players have been directly involved in more goals in the Spanish top flight this term, all but one of whom have played at least one game more.

Chelsea wing-back Marcos Alonso is also part of Luis Enrique's 23-man squad, earning his first call-up in three years, but there is no place for his team-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Luis Enrique has once again overlooked Real Madrid's contingent of players, while Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno, Dani Olmo and Raul Albiol are nursing injuries.

Ander Herrera and Brahim Diaz, who have been in good form for Paris Saint-Germain and Milan respectively, are also left out.

 

Spain squad:

David de Gea (Manchester United), Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion), Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao); Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Gavi (Barcelona), Inigo Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Pedro Porro (Sporting CP), Sergio Reguilon (Tottenham); Pedri (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona); Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Pablo Fornals (West Ham), Pablo Sarabia (Sporting CP), Yeremy (Villarreal).

Luis Enrique claimed Spain are among the top teams in the world, but insisted they have to improve if they want to be the best.

La Roja defeated a plucky Kosovo side 2-0, making it consecutive wins to top Group B after Sweden ended their 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying that stretched back to 1993.

Pablo Fornals was on target for his first international strike, while Ferran Torres scored to become the first player to score six goals in a calendar year for Spain since David Silva (seven) in 2017.

Second-place Sweden slipping up against Greece opened a four-point gap but Luis Enrique implored his team to improve if they are to challenge to be the world's number-one outfit.

"We have made many mistakes, we have had many inaccuracies and we have suffered because of that," Luis Enrique told reporters post-match.

"It was a great relief to score the second goal, which ended the match and see the result that we all hope.

"This group is excellent and eager to improve, accept everything that they are told with the idea of being a stronger team. [We] made changes, six or seven new players coming in but the idea and philosophy stays the same.

"But we are not the best in the world even though we are among the best. Anyone can beat us and there is no one who wins every game."

The Spain head coach also bemoaned the quality of the pitch in Pristina, a sentiment echoed by Aymeric Laporte, who recorded a game-high 139 touches and completed another game-leading 96.9 per cent of his 129 passes.

"It was a highly contested game, we got [the win] at the end and it relieved us," Laporte said post-match.

"The pitch was not optimal. We kept our idea of playing and with a pitch like this, it is complicated.

"In the end, the important thing is the result. We have the determination to win everything, we are Spain and now we have to win everything."

Spain consolidated their spot at the top of Group B with a narrow 2-0 win over Kosovo in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying clash.

Pablo Fornals' first international goal from a tight angle and Ferran Torres' late strike proved the difference as Milot Rashica and Vedat Muriqi were made to rue missed chances for the hosts.

The visitors' loss against Sweden was their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 and ended a 66-match unbeaten run but wins against Georgia and Kosovo have got them back on track.

Luis Enrique's men sit four points clear of Janne Andersson's side, who were beaten 2-1 by Greece on Wednesday, although they have two games in hand.

After Koke's deflected shot brought the first save from Arijanet Muric, Elbasan Rashani fired narrowly wide with a curling left-footed effort as the hosts dominated the opening stages.

Fornals punished Kosovo for not making their dominance pay, the West Ham man blasting a left-footed strike past Muric after a smart turn following Alvaro Morata's offload.

Morata almost doubled the lead with a long-range attempt before Carlos Soler's speculative free-kick forced the Kosovo goalkeeper to parry away.

Rashica offered Spain first-half warnings running in behind but they did not learn their lesson, Muriqi racing through one-on-one with Unai Simon after the break before dragging into the side-netting.

Torres then attempted a cute free-kick, arrowing under the wall but the wrong side of the left-hand post before Simon produced a low reflex save against Zymer Bytyqi as Spain clung onto their lead.

Torres added a late finish of his own, racing through and finding the bottom-left corner, with the goal standing after VAR reversed an initial offside decision.

What does it mean? Spain by no means cruising in Group B

Luis Enrique's men had won only one of their previous nine away fixtures, including friendlies, in all competitions but Wednesday's performance ended that poor run of form on the road.

Spain have coasted past Kosovo and Georgia by an aggregate score of 6-0 and now hold a four-point advantage over second-place Sweden, who now have Greece just three points behind them.

Kosovo, in contrast, responded well to a timid start in World Cup qualifying but failed to extend their unbeaten run to three games, leaving them in fourth with four points.

Super Soler

Despite being withdrawn in the 58th minute, Soler stood out as one of the visitors' key performers.

Against Georgia, he became only the second player since 2006 to score in their two opening games for Spain and he followed up in similar fashion, recording a game-high five key passes.

The Valencia midfielder also misplaced just three of his 43 passes, while also winning a team-high three fouls alongside Sergio Busquets.

Misfiring Muriqi

Muriqi wasted Kosovo's best chance as he slammed wide when set free one-on-one with Simon and after scoring in back-to-back games he will have been frustrated to not convert.

The forward also misplaced half of his 18 passes, losing possession 17 times as he completed just 27.3 per cent of his 11 opposition-half passes.

What's next?

Spain face Italy in the Nations League semi-final in October before travelling to Greece for their next qualifier the following month. Kosovo make the trip to Sweden on October 9.

Luis Enrique has reiterated he would love to see Pep Guardiola take over as Spain coach in the future.

Former Barcelona coach Guardiola suggested last month that he wishes to try his hand in international football after leaving Manchester City.

Guardiola's City deal runs until 2023, and while he plans to take a break whenever his time at the Premier League club is up, he also wants to experience coaching a national team.

Luis Enrique helped continue the legacy his former team-mate built at Camp Nou and said he would have no issues in standing aside for Guardiola.

In fact, it is something Luis Enrique wants to see.

"I'd love that, I wish [Guardiola] was the Spain coach. I'd love it – it would be perfect," he enthused in a news conference ahead of Spain's World Cup qualifier against Kosovo.

"What's more, I'd love to see our national team with his stamp on them.

"I don't think Spain could have a better coach."

Spain have not had it all their own way in qualification but nevertheless sit top of Group B after they bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Sweden by thrashing Georgia 4-0.

The Euro 2020 semi-finalists only hold a one-point advantage over Sweden, however, having played two games more.

As was the case for the Euros, Luis Enrique again did not select any Real Madrid players in his latest squad, though he played a straight bat when pressed on his decision on Tuesday.

"My actions speak louder than words [with regards to Real Madrid players]," he said.

"I could only dig myself a hole with an explanation."

Luis Enrique was pleased with the way Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with a comfortable victory over Georgia on Sunday.

La Roja suffered a shock 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday, their first in 66 World Cup qualifying matches stretching back to 1993.

They bounced back in style in Badajoz, with goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia securing a 4-0 win.

Head coach Luis Enrique felt the margin of victory could have been even greater given Spain's dominance, with Torres and Sarabia each seeing a goal disallowed for offside in a match in which the home side completed 820 passes to Georgia's 264.

"We professionals are used to living on a rollercoaster," Luis Enrique said. "You have to go through pain after a defeat, but quickly bite the bullet and think about the next game.

"Although it seems like the result was easy, it wasn't. We got through them on the inside, the outside, we created chances and we could have scored more goals."

The only disappointment for Spain was seeing some players forced off with physical problems.

While Luis Enrique thinks Aymeric Laporte was simply feeling some muscle fatigue, he is worried Gaya could have a bigger concern.

"Most of the changes were due to some discomfort for the players. I hope there are no serious injuries. That's the bad news," he said.

"Laporte has nothing, it's just a small overload. I don't think they'll even test him.

"Gaya does not look good."

 

Luis Enrique remains optimistic that Spain will book their place at next year's World Cup, but is now focused on progressing via the play-offs rather than topping their qualifying group.

La Roja's hopes of topping Group B were dented by a 2-1 defeat to Sweden on Thursday, leaving them two points behind the leaders and having played an extra game.

It was the first time Spain had lost a World Cup qualifying match since a 1-0 reverse by Denmark in 1993, ending a 66-game unbeaten streak.

At the midway point in the campaign, Luis Enrique believes that topping the group is out of his side's hands and has turned his focus to securing second place and a play-off berth.

Addressing the media ahead of Sunday's meeting with Georgia, the head coach said: "Football is a game of mistakes; individual and collective. 

"There is no single cause as to why we lost the [Sweden] game. It's the sum of everything.

 

"It's no longer up to us. But it's up to us to win our own and be in the play-offs, win it and be in the World Cup. 

"There are two sides. You can always improve, but I try to see the bottle half-full."

Luis Enrique also backed defender Eric Garcia, who came under scrutiny following his performance against Sweden.

"I disagree with the criticism," he said of the Barcelona defender.

"He suffered in the transitions, but also [Aymeric] Laporte, because of the conditions of the Swedes. I'm delighted with their performance."

Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Luis Enrique insists there is nobody better than Pep Guardiola to succeed him as Spain's next head coach.

Guardiola revealed this week he intends to leave Manchester City when his contract expires at the end of next season and explore opportunities at international level.

Spain could be on the lookout for a new leader at that point, with Luis Enrique's deal set to expire after the next World Cup at the end of 2022.

The La Roja job would be an obvious choice for Guardiola, who won 47 caps for his country, and Luis Enrique would be happy to see his former team-mate take up the role.

"I would love that. It would be perfect to see his mark on the national team," Luis Enrique said at a news conference on Thursday.

"I don't think Spain could have a better coach than Pep Guardiola. I'm sure he would do a great job."

Luis Enrique was speaking after naming his squad for Spain's World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, there are no Real Madrid players in Spain's 24-man group, while Sergio Ramos – who has since joined Paris Saint-Germain – is once again absent.

Ramos has not played since May and ex-Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, previously accused of showing anti-Madrid bias, has defended his latest team selection.

"The situation with Sergio is the same as last season," he said. "Sergio has not been able to compete in a single game since we gave the last list.

"As for the selection, my actions respond better than my words."

Euro 2020 semi-finalists Spain have won two and drawn one of their opening three World Cup qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B.

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been left out of Spain's squad for their triple-header of September fixtures.

Thiago made four substitute appearances for Spain in their run to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals, but the 30-year-old – who has just nine minutes of Premier League action under his belt this term – has been overlooked for selection.

Pedri is another notable absentee from Luis Enrique's 24-man squad, though that was expected as the Barcelona midfielder has been given a rest following his participation at Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal and Pau Torres, three other members of Spain's Olympic contingent, will also be given a breather over the first international break of the season.

Fabian Ruiz and Diego Llorente, of Napoli and Leeds United respectively, are the others to have dropped out of Spain's squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, Luis Enrique has decided against calling up any Real Madrid players, meaning no place in the squad for Dani Carvajal, Marco Asensio and Nacho Fernandez.

Abel Ruiz, Brais Mendez, Pablo Fornals, Mikel Merino and Carlos Soler have all been called up, while Inigo Martinez and Raul Albiol are also included.

La Roja have won two and drawn one of their first three qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B ahead of their upcoming trio of matches.

 

Spain squad in full:

David de Gea, Robert Sanchez; Unai Simon; Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Inigo Martinez, Jordi Alba, Jose Gaya, Raul Albiol; Brais Mendez, Carlos Soler, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Mikel Merino, Pablo Sarabia, Rodri, Sergio Busquets; Abel Ruiz, Adama Traore, Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Gerard Moreno, Pablo Fornals

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