MADRID — Forget about his past success with Spain’s national team. David Villa knows he will have to prove himself again.
Three years after his last match with Spain, the veteran striker was the surprise name in the list of players called up by coach Julen Lopetegui for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy on Saturday.
The 35-year-old New York City FC striker, who played for Spain in the last three World Cups, said it feels like he is starting from scratch.
“It’s been three years since I’ve been here, so I have to earn the right to play again,” Villa said Tuesday. “What happened in the past doesn’t mean anything right now. Hopefully I’ll train well this week and the coach can see that I’m able to help.”
Spain hosts Italy in Madrid in one of the most-anticipated games in European qualifying, with the winner moving into good position to secure a spot in next year’s World Cup in Russia. Both teams have been neck-to-neck so far, with five wins each in addition to the draw between them in Turin last year. Only the group winner will automatically qualify. Spain plays at Liechtenstein next Tuesday.
Villa’s last game with Spain was at the 2014 World Cup, when the team was eliminated after disappointing performances in the group stage.
“My role is the same as before,” Villa said. “I’m here to add. I’m just another player in the squad and I’ll be giving everything I have to try to help the team defeat Italy. I’ll do whatever is asked of me on and off the field. I want to help any way possible. It’s been fantastic to be here. It won’t be a disappointment if I don’t get to play.”
Villa said he never officially retired from Spain following the 2014 World Cup, as many believed. He said that he was misinterpreted when he said that it would be hard to play again for the national team after moving to Major League Soccer, where he wouldn’t be playing for eight months every year.
He said he always tried to keep “reinventing himself” while in the United States, where he plays only 30-40 games a season instead of the 60-70 that he used to play in Europe.
“I’ve always said that I remained hopeful of returning,” Villa said at Spain’s training center in Madrid. “But I was realistic and I knew that it would be difficult considering all the quality forwards that were available to play for Spain.”
Villa, who has 97 international appearances and is Spain’s all-time record scorer with 59 goals, was called up by Lopetegui thanks in part to the absence of Diego Costa, who is without a club after leaving Chelsea.
“He is an example of how you should never lose hope,” Spain defender Marc Bartra said of Villa. “He gave a lot to the national team in the past and we were lucky to watch him play. He is playing well again and what matters now is the present. And here we are, enjoying watching him again.”
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