Mexico to test World Cup winners

Madrid - On Wednesday Spain will make their first appearance since winning the World Cup in Johannesburg on July 11, in a controversial friendly away to Mexico.

The game is controversial because of the uncomfortable journey - and because Spain's massive contingent of Barcelona players is still officially on holiday.

The eight Barca players were given holidays until August 11 by Barca coach Pep Guardiola, who did not want them back at the Camp Nou until they were completely rested and recuperated.

But instead of lying on a beach until Wednesday, they will have to fly out to Mexico City on Monday.

"This is a historic moment," said Barca's technical secretary Andoni Zubizarreta last week, when Spain manager Vicente del Bosque announced his Barca-packed squad.

"This is the first time that players have been called up by Spain when they are still on holiday."

Barca had pleaded with Del Bosque not to call up many of their players, because they have the first leg of the Spanish Supercup away to Sevilla next Saturday, and the Spain squad will not return from Mexico until Friday.

Del Bosque, however, called up all of the Barca World Cup contingent - except World Cup final hero Andres Iniesta, who has muscle problems in his right leg - saying that "this is an important match and we should field our best players".

"This is difficult to swallow," said an angry Zubizarreta, when he saw the squad list. "The federation has not taken our requests into consideration at all."

Spain's other injury absentees, in addition to Iniesta, will be Liverpool pair Jose Reina and Fernando Torres, plus Real Madrid's Raul Albiol.

The match will commemorate the bicentennial of Mexico's independence, and the legendary Estadio Azteca will be packed to 100,000 capacity to see the hosts take on the world champions.

It will be the debut of Enrique Meza on the Mexican bench. He took over as national manager after the World Cup, when Javier Aguirre failed to guide "El Tri" - as the Mexican team is known - beyond the round of 16.

In contrast to what Del Bosque has done with the Barca contingent, Meza has decided to overlook the players of Chivas, who are preparing for the final of the Copa Libertadores.

Meza said on Saturday that "I am really looking forward to the Spain match. They are the world champions, and they will come here with all their World Cup stars. It will be a great game and an important occasion." - Sapa-dpa

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