One thing that sets Spain apart at youth level is that they are always one step ahead of everyone else. For their current Under-21 generation, the European Championships don’t get underway for another four months, but they are already putting plans into action for after the tournament. On Tuesday they take on Belgium, now recognised as one of the more prominent developers of young players on the international stage, with only players eligible for the 2015 version of the Euro’s called-up.
Plenty of new faces get their chance, with 12 of the 18 squad members uncapped as of now. Players as young as 17 and 18 have been given promotions from the Under-19′s, and will link up with Julen Lopetegui again, the man who lead them to European glory of their own last summer. Eight of that squad could play against Belgium, including Gerard Deulofeu and Suso, both brought up by Lopetegui himself after taking charge back in September, as well as the likes of Oliver Torres, Alejandro Grimaldo, Paco Alcacer and Juan Bernat.
There are also rewards for some other players who have shown impressive club form lately but weren’t previously able to force their way in, most notably Sampdoria midfielder Pedro Obiang. Barcelona B pair Sergi Gómez and Luis Alberto are also in on that basis, as well as Racing goalkeeper Dani Sotres, and Arsenal defender Ignasi Miquel, one of two English based players in the squad.
With 1992 the limit for the next generation, it has to be noted that a few of the leading lights aren’t involved, namely Iker Muniain, Koke and Isco. The latter however will still be in action during mid-week, as he is in Vicente del Bosque’s full squad that travel to Uruguay tomorrow. A deserved merit for his sensational club form, but it would be great to see him at the centre of this supremely talented U21 side. Other stars who won’t play against Belgium are Real Madrid pair Álvaro Morata and Jesé, as the club requested they stayed to play for Castilla against Almería on Monday (They did, and both scored in a 2-1 win).
A Real Madrid player who could’ve played though is young midfielder Álex, who’s suspension for their latest league game will have been known to Lopetegui before he named the squad. He and Sevilla’s José Campaña appear to have been overlooked though, with Atlético Madrid’s less experienced, but nevertheless incredibly promising, duo of Saúl Ñíguez and Oliver Torres preferred. Both have been fixtures in Lopetegui’s teams since U18′s, and could line-up alongside Real Sociedad’s golden boy Ruben Pardo, still amazingly yet to debut at this level, in the centre.
As mentioned above, with Belgium being reknowned for their upcoming talent, it will be of extra interest to see how this younger Spanish team deals with them in Mechelen. Age difference is often noticeable at youth level, but La Rojita have proved before, for example in that Under-19 tournament last summer, that they can triumph with younger, more skilled players rather than older, stronger ones. Kick-off is 20:00 CET, and the game will be televised live by MarcaTV.
Goalkeepers: Dani Sotres (Racing Santander), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Bayer Leverkusen), Jordi Amat (Rayo Vallecano), Sergi Gómez (Barcelona), Ignasi Miquel (Arsenal), Alejandro Grimaldo (Barcelona), Jon Aurtenetxe (Athletic Bilbao)
Midfielders: Suso (Liverpool), Rubén Pardo (Real Sociedad), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria), Oliver Torres (Atlético Madrid), Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid), Juan Bernat (Valencia), Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)
Strikers: Paco Alcácer (Getafe), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Luis Alberto (Barcelona)