Vol. 5 Num 717 Sun. June 04, 2006  

FIFA World Cup
Germany 2006

'Raul will bounce back'

Spain coach Luis Aragones has defended his captain Raul as he looks set to alter his tactics to incorporate the striker for the World Cup warm-up match against Egypt in Elche on Saturday.

"Raul's statistics speak for themselves. People have been unfair on him and it isn't right that I have to come out and defend him," Aragones told Radio Marca on Friday.

The Real Madrid striker, Spain's all-time leading goalscorer, has come under scrutiny for his poor form since returning in February from a three-month spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

"Maybe it hasn't been his best year. He is possibly missing a little sharpness after his injury but I am sure he will silence his critics," Aragones added.

Raul started on the bench for last weekend's friendly against Russia, which ended goalless, with Aragones preferring the youth and pace of David Villa, Fernando Torres and Luis Garcia up front.

But the indications are that Aragones will make space for the 28-year-old by shifting from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 with Raul playing behind Villa and Torres at the head of a diamond formation in midfield. Garcia will drop to the bench.

Aragones sees Raul's experience and ability to read the game as vital to opening up defences.

"It isn't a new position for him playing in a withdrawn role behind one or two strikers," Aragones told a news conference later on Friday.

"He likes to be on the ball and playing there allows him to do that. He has an exceptional final pass, maybe the best in Spain."

Raul wanted to play down the debate over his possible inclusion.

"I am comfortable in this position, where I can play with a lot of freedom, and we have two very fast players up front who can score goals," Raul told a news conference.

"I haven't scored for a while but I am confident this will change very soon. If I play it's because the coach thinks I will add something to the team.

"But people should be talking about the whole team not just how or where Raul might or might not play."

Sergio Ramos will continue on the right of defence with doctors preferring not to risk Michel Salgado who is still recovering from a muscle strain that kept him out of the Russia game.

Mariano Pernia, who has just been called up to replace the injured full back Asier del Horno, is unlikely to start but could make his Spain debut as a substitute.

Spain's opening World Cup game is against Ukraine on June 14. Their other Group H opponents are Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.