MADRID: Spain’s hopes of retaining the European title hit a snag when veteran Barcelona defender Carles Puyol was ruled out of the finals in Poland and Ukraine because of an injury to his right knee.

The versatile defender, 34 but a key member of the squad because of his influence on the pitch and in the dressing-room, was injured in Saturday’s  home league win over Espanyol. He will undergo surgery on Saturday.

A Barcelona statement said: “The estimated time he will be out of action is around six weeks. He will not be fit in time for the King’s Cup final against Athletic Bilbao on May 25.”

Spain must thus begin their title defence against Italy on June 10 without a man who has won 99 caps and who scored the winning goal in the 1-0 semi-final victory against Germany at the 2010 World Cup.

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said: “This is an extremely significant loss for us. Apart from whether or not it disrupts my plans, he is a charismatic lad and very important. He was only only  step away from making his 100th appearance and he has been in great form.”

Del Bosque may now use Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos alongside Barcelona’s Gerard Pique in central defence in the group games in which Spain also face the Republic of  Ireland and Croatia.

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