Young Spanish team celebrate World Cup debut against Costa Rica

DOHA, Qatar (dpa) – A new era begins for Spain at the World Cupwith a generation of talented young players at the center of their quest for a second world title.

Spain’s revised squad Led by back-to-back Golden Boy award winners Pedri and Gavi, will be tested against an experienced Costa Rican side on Wednesday, bringing back some of the players who helped them surprisingly reach the quarter-finals eight years ago.

The Costa Ricans are hoping to repeat the success of the World Cup in Brazil and avoid the debacle of four years ago in Russia when they failed to win and were eliminated in the group stage.

Spain are also looking to avoid a repeat of their campaign in the 2018 tournament when they were ousted by the hosts in the Round of 16 after undergoing an embarrassing coaching change just days before making their debut.

Many of the tournament’s veterans have left, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva. Instead, coach Luis Enrique relies on players like 19-year-old Pedri and 20-year-old Ansu Fati and Nico Williamsand 18-year-old Gavi, Spain’s youngest-ever goalscorer.

“I think the whole team is responsible,” said Pedri. “I don’t feel like the star of the national team just because I’m on a billboard in Doha. I’m focused on playing, being in good shape and helping as much as possible depending on what the coach asks of me.”

With an average age of 25.3, Spain enter the tournament in Qatar with the third youngest squad of the 32 nations after the USA and Ghana. More than half of the squad is 25 or younger, six players are 20 or younger and playing in their first World Cup.

Pedri, Gavi and Fati are likely to start against Costa Rica. Other youngsters chosen by Luis Enrique – who joined the youth movement by becoming a streamer during the World Cup – include Ferran Torres, Yéremy Pino, Eric García, Hugo Guillamón and Alejandro Balde.

“What surprises me the most is her daring, her way of playing and not being discouraged,” said defender César Azpilicueta, one of the most experienced players in the squad alongside Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. At 34, Busquets is the oldest and only returnee for the Spain side that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Guillamón was unlikely to be available for the opening game with a knee problem, while veteran defender Dani Carvajal had doubts after missing training time with the flu.

Costa Rica, participating in a World Cup for the third consecutive year, is bringing back some players from their historic 2014 season when they were knocked out on penalties by the Netherlands in the round of 16. Among them are a couple of players well known to the Spaniards – former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas (who has not played for Paris Saint-Germain this season) and striker Joel Campbell, who has played in the Spanish league with Villarreal and Real Betis played.

“We didn’t just come to compete,” said midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda, another member of the 2014 squad. “We want to repeat what we did in Brazil.”

Colombia’s Luis Suárez’s side, which also includes the return of Bryan Ruiz from the 2014 team, were the last team to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar after beating New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in June. They were unable to play their last World Cup warm-up against Iraq last week amid problems related to their players’ entry to Iraq.

Spain made it to the finals of the Nations League and the semi-finals of the European Championship last year. Their last major title came at Euro 2012. Earlier this year, they qualified for the Nations League Final Four for the second year in a row.

Since the Nations League defeat to France in October last year, Spain’s only defeat in the Nations League was against Switzerland in September.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports. Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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Associated Press writer Juan Zamorano contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.



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