Uncapped five join Spanish charge
Spain coach Luis Aragones is no stranger to controversy. And though football fans the world over thrive on questioning the decisions of their national team coach, Aragones' squad selections during his four years in charge of La Furia Roja have rarely met with universal approval.
Without doubt one of the most active debates in recent months
has centred on the coach's decision to leave Real Madrid
forward Raul, a former national team captain, out of his UEFA EURO
2008 squad. Another issue to have sparked plenty of reaction is the
absence of Bojan from the party, the
Barça starlet asking to be excused given the accumulated
fatigue of two years without a break.
Yet with Spain's opening match at the finals in Austria and Switzerland just days away, the talk must turn away from these absentees to the 23 names the vastly experienced Sabio de Hortaleza (Wise man of Hortaleza) has chosen for this summer's continental showpiece.
The spine of Aragones' team is expected to be made up of regulars from La Selección's qualifying campaign, though the former Atletico Madrid and Mallorca supremo sprung a surprise by including no fewer than five uncapped players. Given that Andres Palop (Sevilla), Ruben de la Red (Getafe), Fernando Navarro (Mallorca), Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal) and Sergio Garcia (Zaragoza) could all make their debuts in the white heat of this year's EURO, the moment is ripe to learn more about this quintet.
The new boys
Goalkeeper Andres Palop needs little introduction, the images of his vital headed goal against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16 of the 2006/07 UEFA Cup having travelled around the footballing world. And the former Valencia and Villarreal custodian also came to Sevilla's rescue in a more conventional sense in the final, his penalty shootout heroics against Espanyol helping his side to a second successive UEFA Cup win. However, as third-choice keeper behind Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina, it is unlikely that Palop will see much action in Austria and Switzerland.
Versatile forward Sergio Garcia has appeared at every level of the Spanish youth national team set-up, winning the UEFA U-19 Championship in 2002 alongside Andres Iniesta, Jose Antonio Reyes and Fernando Torres. Though the Zaragoza man's attacking wizardry was not enough to save his team from relegation, he is determined to prove he is worth his place.
. I'll try to do as well as I possibly can. Whatever
happens, it won't be through lack of effort."
This attitude is sure to be appreciated by coach Aragones, who may look to employ Garcia's elusive dribbling skills in a wide-right role. "I'll play wherever he wants me to. This show of confidence from the coach is a reward for all the hard work I've put in over the last few years. The national team is the ultimate for any footballer."
Another new face in the national squad is Villarreal midfielder
Santi Cazorla. The two-footed 23-year-old has been
one of Spanish football's most outstanding performers over the
last two seasons, and was a key figure in helping coach Manuel
Submarino Amarillo to second place in this year's La
Liga race. Blessed with power, an eye for goal and a
defence-splitting pass, Cazorla is resolute, hard-working and a
constant attacking threat.
"Even if I don't play a single minute it's not a problem," says the Asturias-born wide player. "I'm going to do what I can, on and off the pitch. I know it'll be difficult to get a game but I'm going to give my all to make myself useful to Luis."
Ruben de la Red, meanwhile, came up through the youth system at Real Madrid but it has been at Getafe where he has made his name. Under the guidance of coach Michael Laudrup, the adaptable youngster has been a key figure in the Azulones' remarkable campaign, which included an epic UEFA Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich and a second successive appearance in the final of Spain's Copa del Rey. The central midfielder, a European U-19 champion in 2004, can also play on the right as well as at centre-back, and has even performed admirably in a withdrawn striker's role.
Perhaps the least known of these newcomers is Mallorca defender
Fernando Navarro, who like Sergio Garcia was once
a member of the Barcelona first-team squad. "There are very
few left-backs around," admits the man himself, a big fan of
Culé legends Hristo Stoichkov and Luis Enrique.
"Kids don't want to play at the back and besides which there aren't many left-footers around," adds Navarro, whose steady performances in a Mallorca side that came mightily close to sealing a European place earned him the nod from Aragones.
Spain squad for EURO 2008:
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Andres Palop (Sevilla)
Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Juanito (Betis), Alvaro Arbeloa (Liverpool), Fernando Navarro (Mallorca), Raul Albiol (Valencia), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal)
Midfielders: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), David Silva (Valencia), Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal), Ruben de la Red (Getafe), Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Marcos Senna (Villarreal)
Forwards: David Villa (Valencia), Sergio Garcia (Zaragoza), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Daniel Guiza (Mallorca)