Spain betting on youngsters to succeed at the World Cup
MADRID (AP) — Spain will look a bit different at this year’s World Cup.
Don’t expect to see veterans like Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta or David Silva in its squad.
Instead, look for youngsters like Pedri González, Gavi Páez and Nico Williams.
Spain is going really young to try to win soccer’s biggest prize and lift a major trophy for the first time since 2012.
Pedri is 19 and has already established himself with the national team. Gavi, 18, not long ago became the youngest player to debut and score with “La Roja” at 17, and just recently won the Kopa Trophy for best under-21 player, an award that Pedri won the previous season.
Williams turned 20 in July, and has quickly gained space after impressing in his first two matches in the lead up to the World Cup.
There are also 19-year-olds Yeremy Pino and Ansu Fati, though the latter didn’t make it to the squad recently because of his lack of playing with Barcelona.
Nearly half of the team’s squad in Qatar is set to be 25 or younger.
“The youngsters have incredible talent and can add a lot to the squad,” 30-year-old forward Pablo Sarabia told The Associated Press.
Spain coach Luis Enrique, going into his first World Cup in the position, has not been shy about calling up youngsters but will balance it out with the experience of players like Sergio Busquets, César Azpilicueta, Koke Resurrección, Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba — all 30 or older.
“We have a group of youngsters and some veterans who we feel can face any rival,” Luis Enrique said.
SEARCH FOR FORWARDS
Luis Enrique has apparently narrowed his list of forwards, with Álvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Marco Asensio, Pablo Sarabia and Pino having their sports practically secured.
Making late pushes are Williams and Borja Iglesias, while losing out will likely be veteran Iago Aspas, the often-injured Gerard Moreno and Fati, who has not played often with Barcelona.
Raúl de Tomás is probably out as well because he will not get to play for new club Rayo Vallecano until January.
Luis Enrique said he has a list of 40 players that could play for the national team but is not expected to take the allowed 26 for the World Cup because he doesn’t like to have too many players in the squad who won’t get a significant number of minutes.
Spain hasn’t won a title since the 2012 European Championship but has done well recently by reaching the semifinals of Euro 2020 and the final of last year’s Nations League, losing to Italy and France, respectively.
Few had expected Spain to succeed in those tournaments as it transitioned between generations, but Luis Enrique put together a competitive squad.
The team will enter this year’s World Cup boosted by a victory at Portugal in the last round of the group stage of the Nations League to advance to the competition’s Final Four for the second consecutive year.
Spain’s last World Cup appearance was marked by the embarrassing firing of coach Julen Lopetegui only days before the team’s debut.
Lopetegui had led Spain to a 20-run unbeaten run after Euro 2016, but he was hastily removed from his post for accepting the Real Madrid coaching job without telling Spanish soccer federation officials in advance.
The sudden change in command proved costly as Spain lost to host Russia on penalties in the round of 16.
In 2014 in Brazil, Spain did even worse, failing to make it past the group stage.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.