MADRID, March 24 (Xinhua) — Spain kick-off its campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar on Thursday night with a new breed of players looking to make their mark.
Only six of the 24-man squad named by coach Luis Enrique for the forthcoming matches against Greece, Georgia and Kosovo formed part of the ill-fated expedition to the 2018 finals in Russia marked by the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.
Goalkeeper David de Gea, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Koke and Thiago Alcantara are the survivors in a virtually unrecognizable squad from three years ago with Enrique (and for a while Roberto Moreno) ringing the changes.
Although De Gea forms part of the squad, Athletic Club Bilbao’s 23-year-old Unai Simon is likely to start in goal against Greece on Thursday night, with Enrique showing his faith in youth by calling up Barcelona’s 18-year-old Pedri, along with 21-year-old Pedro Porro, who is on loan at Sporting club de Portugal from Manchester City, 20-year-old Bryan Gil, who is on loan at Eibar from Sevilla, has also earned his place, while 23-year-old goalkeeper, Robert Sanchez was a surprise call up after performing magnificently for Brighton.
Alba, Ramos and Busquets will still form the backbone of the Spain side, with Ramos’ 178 caps, 120 for Busquets and 70 for Alba, giving them a wealth of experience.
That experience will be vital to given that Unai Simon has only played for his country four times, with Eric Garcia’s three caps, Diego Llorente’s six, Dani Olmo’s eight and Ferran Torres’s seven.
Enrique has shown he is not afraid to look beyond Spain’s borders with Garcia, Torres, Llorente all playing in England, while Porro is currently plying his trade in Portugal and Olmo plays in Germany.
Only four squad members are aged over 30 (Ramos, Alba, Busquets and Sergio Canales). In contrast, the fact that nine players under Enrique’s orders these days are aged 23 or under implies a positive future for Spain after the disappointments of 2018. Enditem