La Roja new boys ready to shine
There is less than a month to go before the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 gets underway on 14 June, and Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who took the reins in the wake of La Roja's UEFA EURO 2008 triumph, is gearing up for what will be his first major challenge in the role.
Since taking the helm of one of the competition favourites, along with Italy and Brazil, Del Bosque has kept faith with the core of Luis Aragones's squad that claimed continental glory in Vienna last summer. Yet the experienced coach is aware of the dangers of living off past success, and has so far balanced the need to introduced fresh new talent without La Selección losing or even drawing a game during his ten months in charge. FIFA.com brings you some of these new faces aiming to cause a stir at South Africa 2009.
"We've brought talented young players into the team who are going to strengthen the national cause," said Del Bosque, who has not hesitated to blood these up-and-coming starlets on even the most testing of occasions. Indeed, Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique's second senior international match had him standing in for injured Barça team-mate Carles Puyol in a crucial 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Turkey in Madrid. Not only did Pique contribute to a Spanish clean sheet, but the former Manchester United defender - in outstanding club form since his summer 2008 return to the Camp Nou - notched the only goal of the game.
Another man grabbing his first full international strike in only his second match was rangy Athletic Bilbao target man Fernando Llorente. "He's managed to add the required aggression to his natural forward's ability. I expect him to be an important player for us in the future," said Del Bosque of the man who headed Spain's second in the 2-0 friendly win over England in February. At 1.93m, the blond forward has led the line for the Basque outfit impressively this campaign and leads Los Leones' goal charts with 13.
Fellow emerging players given an opportunity to shine in the South Africa 2010 qualifying double-header with Turkey were Juan Manuel Mata and Sergi Busquets. Valencia attacker Mata, who came on as a substitute for Los Chés club-mate David Villa in the Bernabeu, was earning his reward for 11 goals and 15 assists in La Liga so far this season.
Barcelona midfielder Busquets, who is thriving in his first top flight campaign, joined the fray in the second half in Istanbul and thus contributed to Spain's 2-1 comeback success. "I'm very thankful for the faith the coach has put in me, and I hope to be able to repay that out on the field every chance I get," he said afterwards.
Del Bosque is surely just as grateful to the youth system of the Catalan club, which has produced current internationals Puyol, Pepe Reina, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, as well as Spain new boys Pique, Busquets and livewire forward Bojan Krkic. The latter is another of the youngsters contributing to Los Azulgranas' phenomenal season under Josep Guardiola, including a goal in their 4-1 Copa del Rey win over Athletic Bilbao on 13 May.
La Selección does not thrive on Barça alone, however, with the likes of Sevilla left-winger Diego Capel and Bilbao defender Andoni Iraola, already a veteran of over 200 La Liga encounters at the age of 26, bursting into international contention since EURO 2008. Del Bosque has also brought in Villarreal custodian Diego Lopez, who has been in outstanding form this season in both domestic and European competition. Though yet to make his senior Spain debut, Lopez appears to have edged out Sevilla's Andres Palop in the battle for his country's third-choice keeper's berth.
Another common factor in many of these emerging talents is their pedigree at youth national-team level. Indeed, Pique, Capel and Mata were all part of Spain's UEFA European U-19 Championship-winning squad in 2006, while Bojan was the star of the team crowned European U-17 champions in 2007 and which later that year finished runners-up in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea, where he hit five goals and was awarded the adidas Bronze Ball.
Last but not least we have another fleet-footed Sevilla winger Jesus Navas. The diminutive 24-year-old, whose recurring injury problems have so far prevented fans from enjoying his exquisite dribbling and crossing in La Roja jersey, is a genuine star in La Liga and Del Bosque would surely love to add his unquestionable talent to his squad for this summer's South African showpiece.