DOHA, Qatar (AP) – A new era is about to begin for Spain at the World Cupwith a generation of talented young players taking center stage in their quest to win a second world title.
The renewed Spanish team, led by Golden Boy winners Pedri and Gavi, will be tested this Wednesday against an experienced Costa Rica side that brings back some of the players who have helped them make an astonishing run to the quarter-finals eight years ago. does.
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 did not win a game and were eliminated in the group stage.
Spain are also looking to avoid a repeat of their campaign at the 2018 tournament, when they were sent off by their hosts in the round of 16 after undergoing an embarrassing coaching change just days before their debut.
Many of the veterans of that tournament have disappeared, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva. Instead, coach Luis Enrique opted for Pedri, 19, and Ansu Fati, 20. and Nico Williamsand Gavi, 18 years old, the youngest goalscorer in Spain.
“I think the whole team bears the responsibility,” said Pedri. “I don’t feel like the star of the national team just because I’m on a billboard in Doha. I’m focused on playing, being in a good mood and helping as much as possible according to what the coach asks me to do.”
Spain enters the tournament in Qatar with the third youngest squad among the 32 nations, with an average age of 25.3, behind the United States and Ghana. More than half of the squad is aged 25 or under, with six players aged 20 or under and playing in their first World Cup.
Pedri, Gavi and Fati will probably start against Costa Rica. Among the other young people chosen by Luis Enrique – who has joined the youth movement by becoming a streamer during the World Cup – are Ferran Torres, Yéremy Pino, Eric García, Hugo Guillamón and Alejandro Balde.
“What surprises me the most is their daring, the way they play and they don’t get scared,” said defender César Azpilicueta., one of the most veteran players in the squad along with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. Busquets is the oldest at 34 and the only returning player from the Spanish team that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Guillamón was unlikely to be available for the opener due to a knee problem, while veteran defender Dani Carvajal was a doubt after missing training time with flu.
Costa Rica, who are playing in their third consecutive World Cup, bring back some players from their historic 2014 campaign, when they were knocked out by the Netherlands in a penalty shootout in the round of 16. Among them are a couple of players well known to the Spanish: former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas (who has not played for Paris Saint-Germain this season) and striker Joel Campbell, who played in the Spanish League with Villarreal and Real Betis.
“We didn’t come just to compete,” said midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda, another member of the 2014 squad. “We want to repeat what we did in Brazil.”
The team coached by Colombian Luis Suarez, which also features Bryan Ruiz returning from the 2014 squad, was the last team to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar after beating New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in June. He was unable to play in the final World Cup warm-up against Iraq last week due to problems with his players’ entry into Iraq.
Spain reached the final of the League of Nations and the semi-finals of the European Championship last year. Their last major title came at Euro 2012. Earlier this year they qualified for the Nations League Final Four for the second consecutive time.
Since the Nations League defeat 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 from Doha, Qatar.