Spain’s good problem: Under-21s depleted as players move up

MADRID (AP) — The rapid rise of some talented youngsters has created a good problem for Spanish soccer before this week’s World Cup qualifiers and the Under-21 European Championship.

A fine run by a few youth players prompted Luis Enrique, the coach of the senior team, to take them away from the under-21 side that is trying to retain its European title.

Players such as Pedri González, Bryan Gil and Pedro Porro, who were set to lead the under-21s in the group stage of the European Championship beginning on Wednesday, are instead with the senior team that on Thursday starts its qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

Other players called up by Luis Enrique that were still eligible to be in Luis de La Fuente’s younger squad are Leipzig’s Dani Olmo and Manchester City duo Èric García and Ferran Torres.

“I have to apologize to De la Fuente, he is often losing players from his squad,” Luis Enrique said. “This connection between the youth squads and the main team is a tradition already. I don’t look at age, it doesn’t matter if a player is 18 or 35, I only look at how they are performing, nothing more.”

Spain’s senior squad begins its Group B World Cup qualifying campaign against Greece, then faces Georgia and Kosovo. The under-21s play their first group-stage match in Slovenia.

“I’m proud that so many under-21 players make it to the main team,” De la Fuente said. “That’s what we work for, it has always been our priority. It doesn’t bother us. We are prepared for this situation. We will find other very good players.”

De la Fuente kept some players who could have had a shot at making it to the seniors, including Barcelona teammates Riqui Puig and Óscar Mingueza.

Their other Barcelona teammate, 18-year-old Pedri, did make the jump to the seniors after recently becoming a regular starter for the Catalan club under coach Ronald Koeman.

The 21-year-old Porro got his call-up thanks to good performances with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, while the 20-year-old Gil has been playing well with Eibar while on loan from Sevilla.

“I’m going to learn a lot,” Gil said. “I’ll be surrounded by the best players in the world and I hope to learn from them.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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