SAINT-MARTIN-DE-RE, France (AP) The young players considered the future of Spanish soccer have not been getting many chances to show their potential at the European Championship.
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Coach Vicente Del Bosque has been revamping Spain after the debacle at the 2014 World Cup but has preferred to stick to more experienced players at Euro 2016.
Most of the youngsters he brought to France have not played a major role for the two-time defending champions so far, and it’s unlikely many will be on the field when Spain faces Italy in the tournament’s round of 16 on Monday at Stade de France.
Goalkeeper David De Gea and striker Alvaro Morata are the only “new generation” players to have started in the team’s first three matches. Of the other six players in the squad who are 25 or younger, only midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion got to play a few minutes off the bench. Yet to play are defenders Marc Bartra and Hector Bellerin, as well as forward Lucas Vazquez and third-string goalkeeper Sergio Rico.
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“It hurts that I’m not able to use players such as Koke, Thiago and Bartra more often,” said Del Bosque, who has favored the veterans from Spain’s recent triumphs and older players who are relatively new to the national team but certainly aren’t part of the country’s new generation, including 31-year-old Juanfran Torres and 29-year-old Manuel “Nolito” Agudo.
The coach brought 14 players with less than 25 international appearances, but only five are younger than 25 years old.
Some of the main players of Spain’s highly successful generation from recent years have already retired from the national team, including Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Xavi Hernandez. Some didn’t even make it to France, like striker Fernando Torres.
The fate of those still on the squad, like Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Iker Casillas, who are all 30 or older, is yet to be decided. The 35-year-old Casillas, Spain’s most experienced player with 167 caps, has already lost his starting position in goal.
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“We used to have a team with a lot of quality players, and now we have one with other quality players,” defender Sergio Ramos said. “The goal is to keep winning, even if we have less experienced players.”
Many expected Del Bosque to give some of the youngsters a chance to play in last Tuesday’s game against Croatia, when Spain had already secured a spot in the knockout stage, but the coach fielded the same 11 from the first two games.
When he brought in players from the bench in the group stage matches, he favored older players such as 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz and 32-year-old midfielder Bruno Soriano.
Of the youngsters on the bench, Alcantara is the one with the most playing time. He came on as a substitute for 23 minutes in the 1-0 opening win against the Czech Republic, and for 10 minutes in the 2-1 loss to Croatia in the team’s third group match. Koke played 21 minutes in the 3-0 win over Turkey in the second match.
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Spain won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, but is coming off early elimination in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which marked the first sign that its winning generation was starting to falter.
“What the youngsters bring to the team is quality,” Iniesta said. “That is what is important, regardless of their age. “There are always changes in a team, but you have to try to keep the winning mentality. We still have a great squad.”
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni