Twenty-year-old forward Ansu Fati returned to Spain’s squad on Friday following a two-year absence, joining coach Luis Enrique’s young team for the World Cup.
Ansu has not played for Spain since making his fourth appearance as a teenager in October 2020 shortly after breaking the record for Spain’s youngest scorer. His spectacular start for Spain and Barcelona was cut short by leg injuries and he has yet to establish himself as a starter with his club.
“I had doubts until the last minute. We know Ansu well because we believed in him before others, but he has been through a difficult process,” Luis Enrique said. “Our mission is to help him get back to his best version. Is he close? Yes? No? We will see. I believe this will be a huge motivation for him.”
Besides Fati, there were no other major surprises when Luis Enrique announced his 26-man squad. The former midfielder, who will coach his first World Cup after playing in three, will rely on a young bunch in Qatar, including Barcelona midfielders Pedri González (19) and Gavi Paéz (18). In June, Gavi broke Ansu’s record by scoring his first goal for Spain at 17 years, 304 days old.
Luis Enrique guided a similar Spain squad to the semifinals of last year’s European Championship. But this team only has one pure striker in Atlético Madrid forward Álvaro Morata. Luis Enrique said he won’t solely depend on Morata with Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Ansu likely to play. The coach added that Marco Asensio can act as a “false nine” if needed.
Wingers Yéremy Pino and Nico Williams, both 20, can also provide speed on the flanks, but most likely will be used as second-half substitutes.
Protecting the goal will still be left to Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simón. Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres and Éric García will likely anchor the defense, with Jordi Alba at left back. Sergio Busquets, with 139 appearances at age 34, will again act as team captain from the midfield.
Busquets is the sole remaining member of Spain’s World Cup-winning team from 2010. Twenty players on the current squad have no World Cup experience.
Spain’s players will travel on Monday to Jordan, where they will play a friendly against that country’s national team on Nov. 17. They will then fly to Doha, where the team will have its base camp during the World Cup.
Spain will play its opening match at the World Cup against Costa Rica on Nov. 23. Spain will also face Germany and Japan in Group E.
“We are going to war in Qatar,” Luis Enrique said.
When asked if he had a problem with holding the event in Qatar, which has been criticized for its attitudes towards the LGBTQ community and the treatment of migrant worker, Luis Enrique replied “none at all.”
“(Qatar) is a country that is involved in situations of conflict,” he said. “You can either focus on the positive to try to create a more just situation, or you can focus on the problems. I focus on soccer. I am not a politician.”
Goalkeepers: Unai Simón (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sánchez (Brighton), David Raya (Brentford).
Defenders: Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), José Gayà (Valencia), Hugo Guillamón (Valencia), Eric García (Barcelona), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri Hernández (Manchester City), Pedri González (Barcelona), Koke Resurrección (Atlético Madrid), Gavi Páez (Barcelona), Carlos Soler (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid)
Forwards: Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain), Nico Williams (Athletic Bilbao), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid), Yéremy Pino (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Barcelona), Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Ansu Fati (Barcelona)