Chelsea’s Kepa back for Spain in De la Fuente’s first squad
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — New Spain coach Luis de la Fuente brought back Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and more veterans on Friday for European Championship qualifiers in his first squad since replacing Luis Enrique.
De la Fuente stuck with only 11 players who Luis Enrique took to last year’s World Cup, where Spain disappointed in a penalty-shootout loss to Morocco in the round of 16.
The group of World Cup players who were dropped included the Barcelona quartet of Jordi Alba, Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati and Éric García, along with Atlético Madrid midfielders Koke Resurrección and Marcos Llorente, and Real Madrid forward Marco Asensio.
In came Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo’s 35-year-old striker who made his 18th and last appearance for Spain in 2019. Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernández, 33, returns for the first time since 2018.
Kepa was last in the squad in 2020. Athletic Bilbao goalie Unai Simón, Spain’s starter at the World Cup and the last European Championship, is injured.
Spain hosts Norway in Malaga on March 25 then plays Scotland in Glasgow three days later in the first qualifiers for the 2024 European Championship in Germany. Georgia and Cyprus are also in Group A.
Madrid’s Dani Ceballos, Bilbao defender Iñigo Martínez, and Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino, are all also back after missing the World Cup. Two strikers, Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno and Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, were recalled after they missed the tournament in Qatar due to injury.
De la Fuente found his replacement for retired holding midfielder Sergio Busquets in Sociedad’s Martín Zubimendi, who has only one cap.
Espanyol striker Joselu Mato, who has 12 goals in the Spanish league this season, can make his international debut at age 32. The same goes for Osasuna’s 29-year-old center back David García.
Young players who played at the World Cup — teenagers Alejandro Balde (19) and Gavi (18) and Nico Williams (20) — remained on the squad. Pedri (20) was likewise included initially by De la Fuente, but the national team announced hours later that the Barcelona player was dropped due to a leg injury.
De la Fuente, a former left back with Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, helped Spain Under-19s win the European Championship in 2015, and the under-21s do the same in 2019. He also coached Spain’s Olympic to silver at the Tokyo Games.
He knows several players from their spells with Spain’s junior teams, but said that did not influence his picks.
“We have not looked to the past, we are looking to the present and future,” he said.
De la Fuente has declared himself a “defender of Spain’s playing style” based on ball possession.
Goalkeepers: Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea), Robert Sánchez (Brighton) David Raya (Brentford).
Defenders: José Luis Gayà (Valencia), Alejandro Balde (Barcelona), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Íñigo Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Nacho Fernández (Real Madrid), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), David García (Osasuna), Pedro Porro (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Rodri Hernández (Manchester City), Martín Zubimendi (Real Sociedad), Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad), Gavi Páez (Barcelona), Fabián Ruiz (Paris Saint-Germain), Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid).
Forwards: Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid), Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Nico Williams (Athletic Bilbao), Bryan Gil (Sevilla), Mikel Oyazarbal (Real Sociedad), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Joselu (Espanyol), Gerard Moreno (Villarreal). ___
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