Young Spain squad makes World Cup debut against Costa Rica

Nov 21, 2022, 11:01 AM | Updated: Nov 22, 2022, 5:33 am
Spain's Sergio Busquets speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov....

Spain's Sergio Busquets speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

              Spain's Sergio Busquets speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain head coach Luis Enrique speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain head coach Luis Enrique speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain's Sergio Busquets speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain's Sergio Busquets speaks to reporters during a news conference, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain head coach Luis Enrique talks to his team during a training session at Qatar University, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain Ansu Fati, left, works out with teammates during a training session at Qatar University, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain head coach Luis Enrique, center left, looks on as his team gathers during a training session at Qatar University, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain's Alejandro Balde, center, works out with teammates during a training session at Qatar University, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
            
              Spain's Pedri speaks to reporters during a news conference at Qatar University, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Spain will play its first match in Group E in the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A new era is about to start for Spain at the World Cup, with a generation of talented young players taking center stage in its quest to win a second world title.

Spain’s revamped squad, led by back-to-back Golden Boy award winners Pedri and Gavi, will begin being put to the test on Wednesday against an experienced Costa Rica team that is bringing back some of the players who helped it make a surprising run to the quarterfinals eight years ago.

The Costa Ricans hope to repeat the success of the World Cup in Brazil and avoid the debacle of four years ago in Russia, when they didn’t win any matches and were eliminated in the group stage.

Spain also wants to avoid a repeat of its campaign in the 2018 tournament, when it was ousted by the host country in the round of 16 after going through an embarrassing coaching change just days before its debut.

Many of the veterans from that tournament are gone, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva. Instead, coach Luis Enrique is betting on the likes of 19-year-old Pedri, 20-year-old Ansu Fati and Nico Williams, and 18-year-old Gavi, Spain’s youngest ever goal scorer.

“I think it’s very positive because young players bring to the team energy,” Luis Enrique said Tuesday. “We try to manage that with the experience that we have as a staff and trying to get the best from every player.”

Spain enters the tournament in Qatar with the third-youngest squad among the 32 nations, with an average age of 25.3, after the United States and Ghana. More than half of the squad is 25 years old or younger, with six players at 20 or younger and playing in their first World Cup.

Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati are likely to start against Costa Rica. The other youngsters picked by Luis Enrique — who has joined in the youth movement by becoming a streamer during the World Cup — include Ferran Torres, Yéremy Pino, Eric García, Hugo Guillamón and Alejandro Balde.

“I think they are players who are important at their clubs, who already play in important European competitions,” said Busquets, one of the most veteran players in the squad along with Jordi Alba and César Azpilicueta. Busquets is the oldest at 34 and the only returning player from the Spain team that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Luis Enrique said he should have all of his players available to play on Thursday, including veteran defender Dani Carvajal, who this week missed practice time because of the flu.

Costa Rica, playing in its third straight World Cup, is bringing back a few players from its historic campaign in 2014, when it was eliminated by the Netherlands in a penalty shootout in the last eight. Among them are a couple of players well known by the Spaniards — former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas (who hasn’t played with Paris Saint-Germain this season) and striker Joel Campbell, who played in the Spanish league with Villarreal and Real Betis.

“This group is very strong mentally and I have a good feeling about what it can do going forward,” Costa Rica’s Colombian coach Luis Suárez said.

The squad also has midfielder Bryan Ruiz coming back from the 2014 team.

“We have very experienced players who can add a lot to the youngsters,” he said. “Both on and off the field.”

Costa Rica was the last team to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar after beating New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in June. It couldn’t play its final warmup for the World Cup against Iraq last week because of issues related to the entry of its players into Iraq.

Spain made it to the final of the Nations League and the semifinals of the European Championship last year. Its last major title came at Euro 2012. Earlier this year, it qualified for the Final Four of the Nations League for a second straight time.

Since the Nations League loss to France in October last year, Spain’s only defeat came against Switzerland in the Nations League in September.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

___

Associated Press writer Juan Zamorano contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Duke head coach Kara Lawson shouts to her team during the second half of an NCAA college bas...
Associated Press

Duke tops trio of ranked women’s teams in North Carolina

Duke’s Kara Lawson and North Carolina’s Courtney Banghart have spent their short tenures building programs back to national relevance. North Carolina State’s Wes Moore is leading the three-time reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion. All of them are in the same area code. This always-competitive market looks tougher than usual with the Blue Devils’ rising to […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2020, file photo, the Olympic rings are reinstalled after it was taken down ...
Associated Press

Probe into US Olympic failings stunted by red tape in DC

DENVER (AP) — More than 27 months since it was greenlighted by Congress, the panel established to investigate the inner workings of the U.S. Olympic structure has yet to conduct a formal interview because of bureaucratic red tape and slow action from the same lawmakers who had expressed a pressing need for better oversight. Two […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic gestures on the court in the second half of an NBA basketball ga...
Associated Press

Who has next for James’ scoring record: Luka? Tatum? Anyone?

James Harden averaged 36 points a few seasons ago. Devin Booker once scored 70 in one game. There are many more players doing much more scoring now than when LeBron James began his NBA career in 2003-04. Tracy McGrady led the league with 28 points per game that season, a mark that nine players would […]
1 day ago
United States' Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates taking second place in an alpine ski, women's World Cham...
Associated Press

Shiffrin’s silver at ski worlds inspired by LeBron’s record

MERIBEL, France (AP) — Amid a whirlwind 48 hours high in the French Alps, Mikaela Shiffrin woke up to the news that LeBron James had broken the NBA scoring record and the American skier immediately drew comparisons to her own record-breaking season. Inspired by James’ accomplishment, Shiffrin went out a few hours later and put […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, scores to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA...
Associated Press

Analysis: LeBron has defied odds, with no drop-off in sight

LeBron James is 38 years old. He is in Season 20 of his NBA career. He is, by conventional basketball-playing standards, ancient. History says his decline should have started already. Except it hasn’t. Not even close. And count that as just another example of what sets James apart from so many other greats, so many […]
1 day ago
Elina Svitolina talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Svitolina calls for Russians to be banned from Olympics

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian tennis player and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina pushed for a total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Paris Games in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. Svitolina, who won her bronze medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, is visiting Ukraine for […]
1 day ago
Young Spain squad makes World Cup debut against Costa Rica