Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

La Rojita Round-up: Under-21′s experiment, triumph for Under-18′s

February 6th, 2013

It was an extremely interesting week for Spain’s lower International levels, with some of the most promising players from the younger generations especially getting chances to show their talent as this year’s Under 21, 20, 19, and 17 sides all take shape ahead of summer tournaments. Also, we have the first, and surely not last, piece of silverware of the year, as the Under-18′s unsurprisingly succeeded in the Copa Atlántico.

We’ll start from the top, as Julen Lopetegui’s U21 team were held to a 1-1 draw away against a talented Belgian side on Tuesday. However it wasn’t the team we were used to, as only players born in 1992 and later were included in the squad (in preparation for when the age limit drops from 1990 in August). This meant that 12 players got debuts at La Rojita‘s highest level, including many of the U19 squad that triumphed under the same manager last summer, and a few of our favourites here at Football Cantera.

Spain U21's starting XI in Belgium

Spain U21′s starting XI in Belgium

Liverpool’s Suso, who debuted as a late substitute against Italy a few months back, started as the #10 and shone, putting in a really impressive first half performance that included an assist for Gerard Deulofeu to finish in rampant style. Rookie Athletic Bilbao ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was another of the debutantes, and despite being impressive overall, could do absolutely nothing about Belgium’s equalizer. Van der Bruggen almost broke the net with his stunning effort before half-time, volleying expertly into the top corner from long range.

Sergi Gómez, the excellent Rubén Pardo, Paco Alcácer and Pedro Obiang, a regular in Serie A for Sampdoria finally given a long overdue chance, were the other starters playing for the first time, but it wasn’t until the second half that we saw the bulk of the new boys. Barcelona’s 17 year-old phenom Alex Grimaldo came on at half-time along with Atlético midfielder Saúl Ñíguez, who was soon joined by club-mate Óliver Torres for the last half hour. All three showed just why they are so highly rated and didn’t look at all out of place having made the step up, the latter especially catching the eye with an array of impressive passes and touches.

Unfortunately there would be no breakthrough for Lopetegui’s side though, but as usual, they dominated the game and did have chances, Deulofeu hitting the crossbar after an Óliver knockdown and Saúl shaving the goal-frame with a header. There were plenty of positives to focus on, with Dani Sotres, Arsenal’s Ignasi Miquel, Luis Alberto and Juan Bernat winning their first caps before the match ended too. The full squad will return for the next round of games in March, but many of the younger squad will re-unite for the U20 World Cup in June, before forming the new Under-21 a few months later.

An extremely busy man, Lopetegui will also be managing the Under-19′s this year, and he took charge of the U18 side in last week’s Copa Atlántico in Gran Canaria, where the younger players in contention competed in and won the four team tournament for a seventh successive year. Plenty of exciting names were on show, including a few who featured in our recent ‘Ones to Watch for 2013′ feature. You may not be surprised to find out that they didn’t disappoint either.

On the first match-day La Rojita took on Mexico, but didn’t get off to the best start with a late goal meaning they had to settle for a draw. Atlético forward Iván Calero opened the scoring with an excellent first half strike, and was the team’s best player on the night, but Pineda leveled things on 85 minutes. Just a day later they did get a win, a much changed team overcoming the local Canarias XI. A single Sandro Ramírez penalty decided the game, with the young Barcelona striker deciding not to celebrate against his regional compatriots.

This year's Copa Atlántico winners

This year’s Copa Atlántico winners

In the deciding game later that week, he was on target once again along with this year’s Juvenil DH sensation Santi Mina (who has scored for Celta Vigo’s first team in a friendly since then) in a 2-1 win over Portugal, enough to win the competition with 7 points from a possible 9, and seal the Golden Boot for Sandro. A Spaniard also took the accolade of Most Valuable Player, but surprisingly it wasn’t one of Lopetegui’s players, but Canaria’s Fran Núñez, who plays for Las Palmas. Although virtually unheard of, he could be one to watch out for given that recent MVP winners include Óliver Torres and Sergio Canales.

Finally, Spain’s U17 side have also been very busy as of late, already having met up three times since the turn of the year. In January they played for the first time since passing the first stage of European Championship qualifiers, beating a strong Italy side 1-0 courtesy of a powerful header from captain Rodrigo Tarin (Barcelona). This week they held a training camp in Las Rozas, with Santi Denía calling up a whole host of new players once again and using it as a chance to experiment. They haven’t fully convinced in recent years so will need all the preparation possible, with the Euro Elite Round kicking off in March before the final tournament in May, should Spain get there for the first time in three years.

Preview – Copa Atlántico 2013

January 28th, 2013

Every year we see new, undiscovered talent coming through in Spain and throughout the world, and this week we get a great chance to have a look at the latest generation, with the Under-18 Copa Atlantico, involving Spain, Portugal and Mexico, taking place in the Canary Islands. The annual tournament returns for its 38th edition on Tuesday, and La Rojita will be looking to win for the seventh year in a row under the management of Julen Lopetegui.

Like last year, MarcaTV will be showing the games, so we’ll get a rare opportunity to see some of the younger prospects in the country play over an extended period. As an under-18 competition, the players taking part are all born in 1995, most a part of last year’s U-17 team that were unfortunately unable to qualify for the European Champions. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico, Sevilla, Valencia and Athletic are all represented among the call-ups, so fans of most teams will have reason to tune in.

The most recognisable names in the squad are that of Barca duo Sergi Samper and Sandro Ramirez, who are currently starring for their Juvenil A team in the División de Honor. They are both also competing in this year’s NextGenSeries, and are tipped for the very top. Sandro, a native Canary who will be playing in front of a familiar local crowd, has scored bags of goals at all levels and is one of the hottest striking prospects in Europe, whereas Samper is seen as another Xavi, a technical phenom schooled in the pass-and-move style, looking to dominate from midfield.

Copa Atlantico celebrations

Last year’s victorious Under-18 team

Other ones to watch include Valencia’s flying full-back José Luis Gaya, who has already debuted for their first team, Celta’s upcoming goal machine Santi Mina who, like Sandro, we profiled in our Ones to Watch for 2013 feature, Atlético’s Iván Calero, an exciting forward who is full of goals and trickery, and talented Sporting Gijón pair Álvaro Bustos and Álex Serrano. Real Madrid’s solid Juvenil A centre-back partnership of Iván Saez and Jaime Sánchez are both also worth keeping an eye on, as are Borja Martínez, MVP of the U-17 Club World Cup last year and captain of Atlético’s youth team, Osasuna ‘keeper Ander Cantero and Sevilla’s Antonio Cotan.

In truth, the squad is very talented across all areas, and it’s likely we’ll uncover new talents like with Óliver Torres, Raúl de Tomas, Fede Vico and Joni Castro last year. Spain won all three of their games in the 2012 version by a 2-0 scoreline, proving a joy to watch as many of the players went on to represent the U-19’s in the European Championships the following summer. With Lopetegui also manager of that team, who, of course, came out victorious in Estonia last July, the U-18 players have a chance to impress and state their case for early promotion.

Sadly, there are a few familiar faces from this supremely gifted 1995 generation we won’t be seeing, most notably Alejandro Grimaldo of Barcelona and Valencia’s Salva Ruiz. They are considered two of the stars of this age group, but have club commitments to attend to. Rubén Blanco (Celta) and Samuel Castillejo (Málaga), already U19 internationals, are not involved either, and Arsenal have withdrawn their Catalan duo, Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral, so we won’t get any English representation (if only they took these competitions more seriously in the UK…). Athletic midfielder Iker Undabarrena also pulled out due to injury.

However, with Thiago Alcantara, Isco, Sergio Canales, Suso, Jesé Rodríguez, David de Gea, Paco Alcácer, Álvaro Morata and Pablo Sarabia just some of the names to have played in the Copa Atlántico in the last few years alone, we may well be in for a treat still. As mentioned above, the tournament starts on Tuesday January 29th, with Spain taking on a Mexico side who have produced plenty of talent of their own lately. Then on Wednesday, they face a Canary XI made up of young players from the island, before the headline fixture against Portugal on Friday, that should determine the overall winner. All games kick-off at 7.30pm local time.

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Ander Cantero (Osasuna), Alejandro Remiro (Athletic)

Defenders: Rubén Duarte (Espanyol), Iván Saéz (Real Madrid), Julio Rodríguez (Sporting), José Luis Gaya (Valencia), Jaime Sánchez (Real Madrid), Ignacio Vidal (Valencia)

Midfielders: Borja Martínez (Atlético), Sergi Samper (Barcelona), Óscar Gil (Athletic), Álvaro Bustos (Sporting), Antonio Cotan (Sevilla), Unai López (Athletic)

Strikers: Sandro Ramírez (Barcelona), Santi Mina (Celta), Iván Calero (Atlético), Alex Serrano (Sporting)


17.00 – Portugal vs. Canarias XI
19.30 – Spain vs. Mexico

17.00 – Mexico vs. Portugal
19.30 – Spain vs. Canarias XI

17.00 – Canarias XI vs. Mexico
19.30 – Spain vs. Portugal

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.