MADRID (AP) — Santi Cazorla was told by doctors a few years ago he would have a hard time walking with his son in the garden.
On Friday, coaches told him he will be playing for Spain again.
The 34-year-old Cazorla was the surprise name in Spain’s squad for next month’s European Championship qualifiers, marking the return of the attacking midfielder to the national team for the first time in four years after serious injuries threatened more than just his career.
“If someone had told me that it would end like this, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Cazorla said. “It’s been two very hard years with injuries.”
The Villarreal player said he was caught by surprise by the news, which was delivered to him by his teammates before practice on Friday.
“I was getting ready to start my vacation, but that can wait for as long as needed,” he told Spanish media. “I want to keep enjoying this adventure.”
Francisco “Isco” Alarcón also made it back for the matches against the Faeroe Islands and Sweden in June, while coach Luis Enrique was absent from the announcement because of personal reasons.
Also called up was Real Sociedad forward Mikel Oyazarbal, while back from injuries were Iago Aspas, Dani Carvajal and Diego Llorente. Missing from the list were previous regulars such as Jorge “Koke” Resurrección, Saúl Ñíguez and Dani Ceballos.
Cazorla hasn’t been with the national team since November 2015.
“He is here because of his performance, which has been really good since the beginning of the season,” assistant Spain coach Robert Moreno said. “He is an example for the kids. He had to go through a lot, and hopefully destiny will give him back these 141 matches that he missed because of the injuries.”
Cazorla played with pain after hurting his ankle in 2013, then underwent left knee surgery in 2015 and needed another operation a year later because of a tendon injury in his right foot. Since then he has had eight surgeries because the wound kept opening and getting infected.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca two years ago, Cazorla said doctors in England told him he should be satisfied if he can just walk properly. He said the infection caused a loss of eight centimeters of his Achilles tendon.
Cazorla didn’t play for several months before being signed by Spanish club Villarreal at the beginning of this season.
“He surprised us in the beginning, and was able to maintain his form,” Moreno said.
Moreno will be interim coach during the upcoming qualifiers because Luis Enrique remains out with an undisclosed personal problem. Luis Enrique also missed the team’s previous two qualifiers.
Isco was left out of the previous list because he hadn’t played much with Real Madrid under coach Santiago Solari, but he regained his spot in the team after the return of Zinedine Zidane.
“He is playing again and we are thrilled that he can help us with his talent,” Moreno said.
Spain plays at the Faeroe Islands on June 7, then hosts Sweden at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium three days later. The Spanish lead Group F with six points, two more than Sweden and three more than both Romania and Malta.
Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pau López (Real Betis), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Jose Luis Gayá (Valencia), Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad), Mario Hermoso (Espanyol), Iñigo Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Rodri Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Santi Cazorla (Villarreal), Fabián Ruiz (Napoli), Dani Parejo (Valencia), Francisco “Isco” Alarcon (Real Madrid)
Forwards: Rodrigo (Valencia), Álvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Mikel Oyazarbal (Real Sociedad)
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