The young Spanish squad led by coach Luis Enrique made their global debut on Wednesday (23/11/2022) against Costa Rica, which is filled with old, experienced players in their opening match in Group E of the Qatar World Cup.
Captain Sergio Busquets was the only remaining player from the squad that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which was then managed by coach Vicente del Bosque. Now Luis Enrique will rely on young players to make a splash in Qatar.
Three years into restructuring after poor performances in Brazil in 2014 and then in Russia in 2018, there are hints the former Barcelona and Real Madrid star is building what will become the dominant force in world football for years to come.
Pedri who is still 19 years old, Gavi who is even younger at 18 years old, and Catalan Ferran Torres who is 22 years old are three of the young faces of Spain who make this team never lose their attractiveness.
Luis Enrique, who led Spain to the semifinals of Euro 2020 only to lose on penalties to Italy who went on to win the tournament, selected 14 players aged 25 and under. This makes Spain one of the three teams whose squads are the youngest on average.
“We are a team that has a lot ahead of us. We are still very young,” Torres said as quoted by Reuters, while stressing his team is in the process of maturing.
“We will play our best to get a result and if we can we will keep going. Even if we don’t succeed, we will come out with our heads held high.”
In contrast to Costa Rica. The Central American team, which is playing its sixth World Cup, is actually filled with experienced senior players.
Six of their squad members are former retainers of the 2014 World Cup when Costa Rica qualified from a lethal group filled with Italy and England. They are all now at least 30 years old, including striker Bryan Ruiz who is 37 years old.
Colombia coach Luis Fernando Suarez’s team is known to be solid in which they only conceded eight goals during World Cup qualifying. But they were sharp on the counter-attack, which 33-year-old Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta found difficult to avoid.
But age can also be a risky factor for Costa Rica. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas has not played a competitive match for Paris St Germain in five months after his place was taken by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
First 11 player predictions
Spain (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Dani Carvajal, Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba; Pedri Gonzales, Sergio Busquets, Gavi; Ferran Torres, Alvaro Morata, Ansu Fati
Costa Rica (4-3-3): Keylor Navas; Carlos Martinez, Francisco Calvo, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo; Yeltsin Tejeda, Jewisson Bennette, Gerson Torres; Celso Borges, Anthony Contreras, Joel Campbell
Jose Gaya has been forced out of the Spain squad due to injury which has prompted Luis Enrique to call up Alejandro Balde, but it is likely Jordi Alba will be starting at left-back.
Enrique will also field strikers Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and Alvaro Morata who is the squad’s top scorer with 27 goals, in a 4-3-3 formation.
The midfield itself is likely to be filled by Barcelona players consisting of Gavi, Pedri and Sergio Busquets. This trio became a creative force and at the same time the main barrier before Costa Rica could harass the Spanish defense.
For his own defense, Enrique might partner Pau Torres with Aymeric Laporte at the heart of the defense right in front of goalkeeper Unai Simon.
Meanwhile, Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba fill the two wings of the defense, who are also two Spanish aggressors from the width of the field who will actively flow the ball to the attack wings.
It is also believed that Costa Rica will install a 4-3-3 formation which can turn into a 4-5-1 when they lose the ball and when trying to fend off Spanish pressure.
Keylor Navas remains Costa Rica’s irreplaceable goalkeeper and he will be protected by Francisco Calvo and Oscar Duarte in a central defensive partnership. They themselves will be flanked by Carlos Martinez and Bryan Oviedo, who are the two Costa Rican full-backs who usually help out with attacks.
Celso Borges, who has defended Costa Rica 155 times, will occupy one of the wings of attack with Anthony Contreras.
The two of them became companions for Joel Campbell, who has scored 25 goals in 119 appearances for the La Sele team, and has become the tip of the attack for Kota Rika.
Key Stats for both teams
The two countries have only met three times, all of which have been friendly matches. Spain won 2-1 in 2015 and 5-0 two years later, while the other game in 2011 ended in a 2-2 draw.
Spain is now one of the dominant forces in world football after winning the 2008 and 2012 European Cups and the 2010 World Cup.
From November 2006 to June 2009 Spain was unbeaten in 35 matches including 15 consecutive wins.
Spain won six of their eight 2022 World Cup qualifiers but lost 1-2 against Sweden and drew 1-1 at home to Greece.
Costa Rica is the third most successful CONCACAF nation and has qualified for the World Cup finals three times.
Costa Rica has failed to win its last six World Cup finals matches, all of which have come within 90 minutes of normal time.
Costa Rica won twice each over Uzbekistan and Nigeria, and drew once against Korea in a World Cup warm-up game. (Ant/OL-13)
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