MADRID (AP) — Twenty-year-old striker Ansu Fati returned to the Spanish squad on Friday after a two-year absence, joining coach Luis Enrique’s young squad for the World Cup.
Ansu hasn’t played for Spain since making his fourth appearance as a teenager in October 2020 shortly after breaking the record for Spain’s youngest goalscorer. His spectacular debut for Spain and Barcelona has been cut short by leg injuries and he is yet to establish himself as a starter with his club.
“I doubted until the last minute. We know Ansu well because we believed in him before others, but he went through a difficult process,” said Luis Enrique. “Our mission is to help him find his best version. Is he close? Yes? No? We’ll see. I think that will be a huge motivation for him.
Besides Fati, there were no other major surprises when Luis Enrique announced his 26-man squad. The former midfielder, who will coach his first World Cup after playing in three, will rely on a young squad in Qatar, including Barcelona midfielders Pedri González (19) and Gavi Paéz (18). In June, Gavi broke Ansu’s record by scoring his first goal for Spain aged 17 years and 304 days.
Luis Enrique guided a similar Spanish side to the semi-finals of last year’s European Championship. But this team has only one pure striker in Atlético Madrid striker Álvaro Morata. Luis Enrique says he won’t depend solely on Morata with Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Ansu likely to feature. The coach added that Marco Asensio can act as a ‘false nine’ if necessary.
Wingers Yéremy Pino and Nico Williams, both 20, can also provide speed down the flanks but will most likely be used as second-half substitutes.
Goal protection will still be left to Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simón. Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres and Éric García will likely anchor the defence, with Jordi Alba at left-back. Sergio Busquets, with 139 appearances aged 34, will once again act as the team’s captain from midfield.
Busquets is the only remaining member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning squad. Twenty players in the current squad have no World Cup experience.
The Spanish players will travel to Jordan on Monday, where they will play a friendly match against that country’s national team on November 17. They will then fly to Doha, where the team will have its base camp during the World Cup.
Spain will play their World Cup opener against Costa Rica on November 23. Spain will also face Germany and Japan in Group E.
“We are going to war in Qatar,” said Luis Enrique.
When asked if he had a problem with holding the event in Qatar, which has been criticized for its attitude towards the LGBTQ community and the treatment of migrant workers, Luis Enrique replied “nothing at all”.
“(Qatar) is a country involved in conflict situations,” he said. “You can either focus on the positive to try to create a fairer situation, or you can focus on the issues. I focus on football. I am not a politician.
Goalkeepers: Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sanchez (Brighton), David Raya (Brentford).
Defenders: Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), José Gayà (Valencia), Hugo Guillamón (Valencia), Eric García (Barcelona), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid ) )
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri Hernández (Manchester City), Pedri González (Barcelona), Koke Resurrección (Atlético Madrid), Gavi Páez (Barcelona), Carlos Soler (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid) )
Forwards: Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain), Nico Williams (Athletic Bilbao), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Álvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid), Yéremy Pino (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Barcelona), Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports