Up-and-coming forward Juan Manuel Mata is one of those players brought in by incoming Spain coach Vicente del Bosque to continue strengthening a squad which had won UEFA EURO 2008 in such style. And the 22-year-old could hardly have asked for tougher opponents on his competitive La Roja debut, coming on as a second-half substitute in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Turkey in Madrid on 28 March.
The Valencia man could call upon extensive national-team experience at youth level to help him through, having been part of the Spanish team crowned European U-19 champions in 2006. A year after that success, and given Real Madrid's apparent disinterest in offering their youth product a first-team opportunity, Mata packed his bags and headed to Valencia. The decision was an inspired one, with the gifted attacker making 24 La Liga appearances (five goals) and eight in the Copa del Rey (four goals) for Los Chés in 2007/08, with the club winning the latter event.
Mata can play out wide or as a second striker, while he is gradually rediscovering the nose for goal that characterised his play as a youngster. A natural finisher, his quick feet and small stature make him an elusive opponent, while impeccable timing gives him an aerial ability that belies his size.