Madrid (AFP) – Stand-in Spain captain Sergio Ramos has expressed his surprise at Iker Casillas’s exclusion from Julien Lopetegui’s first squad as Spain boss.

Ramos is expected to lead the 2010 world champions in their first 2018 World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein on September 5 after the 35-year-old Casillas was dropped in favour of David de Gea, Pepe Reina and West Ham’s Adrian.

“It surprises everyone when such an emblematic and historic player for world and Spanish football (is left out),” said Ramos as the Spanish squad met in Madrid on Monday ahead of Thursday’s friendly away to Belgium.

“It is always an important absence, more so because he is our first captain.”

Casillas earned status as a national hero as Spain won three back-to-back major tournaments at Euro 2008 and 2012 either side of their World Cup triumph in South Africa.

However, as his form faded he left Real Madrid after nearly two decades with the Spanish giants to join Porto in July 2015, then managed by Lopetegui.

Casillas was benched by Vicente del Bosque for Spain’s four matches at Euro 2016 with De Gea in goal as the holders bowed out with a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Italy in the last 16.

“Obviously it is strange that there is a squad and you don’t see Iker Casillas, but everything is respected,” added Ramos.

“A new era is starting with a radical change and in that sense there is great desire to return to doing things well.”

Lopetegui has selected 11 players that missed out on the Euros just two months ago with Cesc Fabregas another veteran overlooked.

A series of promising young players such as Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto, Real Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio and Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid could be handed their competitive international debuts against Liechtenstein in Leon.