Veterans keep important role in Spain's young World Cup team

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - After the final whistle of Spain's 1-1 draw with Germany at the World Cup on Sunday, coach Luis Enrique went out to the field and began talking to some of his players.

He spent more time with one in particular, Sergio Busquets, the only remaining member of Spain's World Cup-winning squad in 2010.

Busquets and the other veterans in the team are still playing an important role for Luis Enrique in Qatar, where Spain has one of the youngest squads in the tournament.

Youngsters Gavi, Pedri and Nico Williams have attracted most of the attention so far, but the likes of Busquets, Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba remain key figures for La Roja as it tries to win a second World Cup title.

"It's normal for people to get tired of the veterans," Luis Enrique said. "But the veterans here have been spectacular. I don't bring them just to be hanging around. Jordi Alba is without a doubt the best full back in the world in the last third of the field. Busquets, they wanted to retire him four years ago, but hopefully we can convince 'Busi' to play in yet another World Cup."

The 33-year-old Alba is among the tournament leaders with two assists, with one in each of Spain's first two matches. He is the oldest player in a defense that also includes the 30-year-old Carvajal and 33-year-old César Azpilicueta.

In the midfield, it's the 34-year-old Busquets, the oldest player in the entire squad, who has been playing well and providing the needed protection for the 18-year-old Gavi and the 20-year-old Pedri. And in attack, it's the 30-year-old Álvaro Morata and the 26-year-old Marco Asensio performing well along with 22-year-old Ferran Torres and 20-year-old Williams. Morata and Torres have scored two goals each, and Asensio one.

While Busquets is the only player back from the 2010 tournament in South Africa, only three others were in Brazil in 2014 - Alba, Azpilicueta and Koke Resurrección. Six were in Russia in 2018 - Busquets, Azpilicueta, Alba, Carvajal, Asensio and Koke.

"Those of us who are a bit older, we have already gone through difficult moments in Brazil and in Russia," the 30-year-old Koke said Tuesday. "That allows us to be able to help the younger players so we can keep these situations from happening again."

Spain was eliminated in the group stage in Brazil and in the round of 16 in Russia. Since then, Luis Enrique has been gradually revamping the squad. He arrived in Qatar with 20 players making their World Cup debut, and an average squad age of 25.3, behind only the teams of Ghana and the United States.

"The veterans are just as motivated as the youngsters," Koke said. "We all want to show everyone what we can do. This unity is what makes it such a healthy and strong group. We all feel important. We have this good feeling among us, this good energy."

Koke said he has been spending time giving advice to Gavi, who is 12 years younger than him and sits by his side in the locker room.

"I tell him not to get caught up in the madness that surrounds the World Cup," Koke said. "He has to keep playing, he has to keep enjoying it and remain calm. We, the older players, we've played in World Cups and European Championships and we try to make them feel comfortable and tell them to give their best."

Gavi scored in Spain's 7-0 win against Costa Rica to become the youngest scorer at the World Cup since Pelé in 1958.

Spain, which hasn't won a major title since Euro 2012, closes its group-stage campaign against Japan on Thursday. It needs at least a draw to advance to the round of 16 without having to depend on the other Group E match between Germany and Costa Rica.


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