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The future is now: Thanks to its super talents, Spain is ready for big things again

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Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, better known as Gavi, had only completed 363 minutes as a professional footballer, but Luis Enrique had no doubts.

The Spanish national coach nominated the then only 17-year-old midfielder from FC Barcelona for the semi-finals of the Nations League – 83 minutes later Enrique was sure in the belly of the legendary San Siro stadium. “Gavi will not only be the future of the Selección, he is already the present.”

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It’s been just over a year since the Andalusian prodigy’s first international cap and Enrique hasn’t promised too much. Gavi is now not only a fixture at FC Barcelona, ​​but also an integral part of the national team.

Gavi scored his third international goal in an impressive 7-0 win against Costa Rica in their first group game – becoming the youngest goalscorer at a World Cup since a certain Edson Arantes do Nascimento at the 1958 World Cup. The Brazilian legend known to the football world only as Pelé , also won the tournament a few days after his debut goal.

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Gavi and his Spaniards are now hoping for a similar triumph as they go into the second round match against Germany this Sunday (8 p.m., ZDF) full of self-confidence. “This result empowers us all. But now Germany is coming and that will be complicated,” said Enrique. It doesn’t matter to him that Spain hasn’t just been something of the DFB team’s feared opponent since Seville’s 6-0 win in November 2020.

At the 2010 World Cup, Carles Puyol headed the German team out of the tournament in the semifinals.
© imago/Shutterstock

With an average age of 25.6 years, his team is the second youngest at the World Cup behind the USA, for 20 of the 26 players in the squad it is the first World Cup. But what applies to Gavi also applies to his team: the future is now.

After the unique successes of the golden generation, which swept up everything there was to win in world football between 2008 and 2012 and also dominated to a large extent with FC Barcelona, ​​the Spanish national team fell into a hole. Gradually Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Fernando Torres retired.

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Passes brought Spain against Costa Rica man – World Cup record.

The mix of veteran heroes and new upstarts didn’t work. In Brazil, France and Russia it was an early end for Spain. In many places the end of the Tiki Taka has already been conjured up. The game against Costa Rica on Wednesday, in which Spain smashed the previous World Cup record with more than 1,000 passes, showed that this was clearly premature.

The European Championships last summer were clear proof of the Spanish upward trend. At the time, expectations of the inexperienced team were lower than they had been for a long time, but the Selección made it to the semi-finals and, despite a clear superiority, lost on penalties to eventual European champions Italy. The footballing world fell in love with Pedri who now forms the world’s most talented midfield duo with Gavi.

In Barcelona, ​​the two pacesetters have the perfect teacher in Xavi and prominent comparisons can hardly be avoided. What Xavi and Iniesta were to the Golden Generation, Gavi and Pedri shall be to theirs. “The comparisons with Pedri don’t bother me,” said Iniesta, who visited the team at the training center on Friday.

“He’s only 18 years old, but he has the personality of an experienced player. I think he will become one of the stars of world football,” Enrique said of Gavi. At Barça, both are said to have release clauses of one billion euros.

The Blaugrana are the heart of the Spanish team in Qatar not only because of the two upcoming stars. There are eight Barcelona players in the squad, five of whom started against Costa Rica. In defensive midfield, Sergio Busquets has the back of his two young team-mates. Alongside Jordi Alba, he is the last remnant of the successful past.

The personal and playing overlaps between the national team and Barcelona make Enrique’s work easier, especially in a tournament without real preparation. Almost traditionally, the national coach relies on a lot of ball security, but like in his successful time as Barça coach, lets play much more vertically.

The passing game should never be an end in itself, but should incessantly constrict the opponent and create chances. The Spaniards usually do without a real goalscorer. Due to the many movements of players and ball, the dangerous zone is still well occupied. “We may not have a player who scores 30 goals, but we work as a team to get in front of goal,” said Enrique.

One point of criticism before the tournament was the low threat from midfield and defense. Standards lack the physique and instinct of Sergio Ramos, who Enrique didn’t even nominate. So far, none of the players in the center have had an urge to go into the penalty area like Iniesta or Cesc Fàbregas used to.

However, Gavi is on the right track with three goals in 12 appearances and as long as Ferran Torres, Leipzig’s Dani Olmo and Joker Alvaro Morata keep scoring as they did against Costa Rica, Spain needn’t worry anyway. “I don’t know if we’re favorites for the World Cup, but we certainly have a good chance and desire to do something big,” said Torres.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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