champions of Europe, again!
Three years ago, the senior team conquered Europe. And this summer, the U-21 and U-19 teams have done so as well! Meanwhile, the U-20 team is very well-positioned in the World Cup, having won all three of their games so far. It’s a good time to be a fan of Spanish football! Anyway, here’s all the news from the senior team, the U-20 and U-19 teams over the past few weeks. I figured if I waited much longer, I’d be overwhelmed by the time I came back from vacation.
On Aug. 5, VDB announced the list of players called up for Wednesday’s friendly against Italy in Bari. The thing that caught everyone’s attention was the inclusion of Thiago on that list, as presumably Spain wants to make sure that it will be Spain he will be playing for in the future instead of Brazil. Curiously enough, Thiago could debut in the city he was born in, Bari (this means he also has Italian citizenship, giving him three suitors). However, VDB said that Thiago was called up because he deserved it for sporting reasons, and that he has more confidence in Thiago at the moment – in his present and his future – than in José Antonio Reyes. Thiago won’t “belong” to Spain until he debuts in an official game (i.e. not a friendly like this one) wearing the Spanish jersey.
(I don’t have a picture of VDB reading out the list, so I’m going to put some old favorite photos instead to bring some color to this section of the post.)
VDB also said the list was made up in fairness to all the clubs and players, and that for this game, they’re not taking any of the younger players, because there are so many players that deserve to be on the list. No one from Villarreal made it for the first time in four years, after contributing many players in the last few call-ups (in fact, Capdevila has been the field player most used by VDB since he took over, with only Iker playing more minutes), only five defenders made it and Cesc was absent because “he hasn’t played in any games and given the competition out there, we have to opt for other players.” Hopefully, Cesc’ future will be resolved soon so it doesn’t affect his place on the national team! In addition, Puyol misses out due to injury, and PF Juan Mata and Javi Martínez (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) return to the big boys team from La Rojita.
The team is expected at Las Rozas on Monday at 11h. At 12:30h, they’ll attend the XXII Foro Marca/Ballesteros, which will honor the team with the Marca de Oro trophy, in the Luis Aragonés room. Andrés Iniesta will also receive the newspaper’s legend award. Then the team will train at 19h on Monday night, and fly to Bari at 10h on Tuesday morning. In Bari, they’ll hold a press conference at their hotel, the Hotel Sheraton Nicolaus, and a training session. Wednesday’s game will be at 20:45h, with the team returning to Spain after.
The list is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Víctor Valdés.
Defenders: Andoni Iraola, Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Piqué, Raúl Albiol.
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martínez, Santi Cazorla, David Silva, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Thiago Alcántara.
Forwards: Fernando Torres, Álvaro Negredo, Juan Mata, Fernando Llorente, David Villa, Pedro Rodríguez.
Nacho Monreal has since been added to the list, due to Sergio Ramos’ back problems. Sergio will go to Las Rozas on Monday like the others to be checked out by the national team’s doctors. If they deem him fit to play, he’ll go along on the trip. Monreal’s last call-up was 10 months ago, for the 2012 Euro qualifiers against Lithuania and Scotland. He told COPE that he’s excited and happy by the call-up, and at the same time a bit upset that it came as a result of an injury to a teammate.
More on Thiago’s possible debut: he could become the fifth player with Brazilian nationality to play for Spain, after the brilliant Marcos Senna (28 games, one goal), Catanha (three games), Donato (12 games and three goals) and Heraldo Bezerra (one game), and the second with Italian nationality, after Pier. He tweeted after the announcement, “today I woke up to some great news, my first call-up with the senior team! Today is a wonderful day! Thank you very much!” Players from Argentina (Di Stéfano, Pernía, etc.), Hungary (Puskas, Kubala), Uruguay (Santamaría) and Denmark (Christiansen) have also suited up for La Roja previously, among others. Thiago would be the 39th player not to be born in Spain to wear the shirt of Spain.
We also found out which teams we’ll be facing in 2014 World Cup qualifying. Those unlucky teams in Group I with us are France, Belarus, Finland and Georgia. It always seems like we’re in the last group, no? But that fared well for us during the Euro and the World Cup, where we were also in the last group, so I have no complaints. Iker’s reaction, via his FB, was “we were paired up with serious rivals on the road to Brazil 2014. Both France and Belarus seem to me to be the most difficult and direct rivals. As for Finland and Georgia, we have to be careful with them, even if the points seem to be a given, since the games will be difficult for the climate and atmosphere in those countries. It will be an emotional road.”
The U-19 team
Spain has added yet another title to its growing collection! The U-19 team won their Euro in Romania, beating the Czech Republic 3-2 in overtime, for their fifth U-19 Euro crown. Spain had to make two comebacks to walk away as champions, making this a nerve-wracking game for them and for us spectators. Jon Aurtenetxe scored with five minutes left in regulation and Paco Alcácer (called “the best 9 I’ve ever seen,” “the bomb,” and “a killer” by Gerard Deulofeu, Álvaro Morata and Sergi Gómez, respectively) scored twice in overtime to make the Cup ours. Rubén Pardo also had a fantastic game. I guess the “karaoke” session they had the day before the game to relieve tensions worked (one of the players would start singing a song, and the rest would join in)! And the boys rewarded themselves by celebrating first on the field, where of course there was the singing, chanting and dancing now almost obligatory in La Rojita celebrations, and then in a disco until five in the morning. A well-deserved celebration! Of note: before some of the players started celebrating, they took the time out to console the Czech players.
There was what seemed like a negative incident (video here) during the celebrations, but which turned out to be nothing (no matter how hard some Spanish politicians tried to create controversy). As the team formed an honor guard for the Czech players and prepared to go up to collect their own medals and the trophy, coach Ginés Meléndez was seen taking away Juan Muñiz’ Asturias flag. Later on, he explained that the Federation had told him that “there can be provincial flags on the field, but not when the trophy is being handed out, since only flags of Spain are allowed from now on,” and that he had forgotten to pass on this message to the players. He said he saw something blue on Juan’s neck, removed it and told him he’d give it back to him later, as on the field the players can celebrate with whatever they want. Ginés added than Juan understood perfectly, and that all the boys on the team know that when they’re playing for the selección, they’re representing Spain. Juan Muñiz also told reporters that the incident was nothing: “I think they were the Federation’s rules, that you can’t hold flags when receiving the medals, but later, Ginés gave it back to me once we got them. There’s no need to dwell on it. Everything is forgotten. The most important thing is that we’re champions.” He added that his relationship with Ginés, which dates back to the U-17 team, will not be broken and that Ginés has always been like a father to him.
With this win, Spain is the only country to hold the U-21 and U-19 Euro championships at the same time. And of course, Spain is also the current titleholder of the Euro tournament. By the way, the U-17 women’s team also won their European championship this week, defending the title which they had also won a year ago.
Álvaro Morata ended the tournament as the pichichi (Golden Boot) with six goals, the best mark in the 10-year history of the tournament. He scored one against Belgium in the debut, a hat trick in the second game against Serbia and twice against Ireland in the semifinals. MFC said after the game that his goals were “dedicated to my teammates, to those teammates that weren’t able to come, to my friends, my family and my girlfriend. It was fundamental that the 18 of us were great friends and that could be seen on the field. It’s true that we were tired, it was a difficult game but we showed that we’re una piña.” He later said he was able to win that honor “thanks to the work of the entire team and the passes of my teammates. I’m very grateful to them because they had all the success, and I’m only in charge of pushing the ball. If I had to choose one goal out of the ones I scored, it would be the one against Ireland, which was very special for me.” Dani Carvajal described his most memorable moment as “the celebration of the final, in which you saw a united group. Those of us on the bench leapt onto the field to celebrate together, we were a great unit and a great group of friends.”
Locker room pics via the boys’ twitters…
Earlier, in the semifinal, Spain scored five goals (Álvaro Morata (2), Pablo Sarabia, Gerard Deulofeu, Juanmi) and allowed none against Ireland in a great game that showed how talented the team and the players are. Deulofeu had a fantastic game and caused nightmares for Ireland, helping Spain to reach their sixth final of this tournament (they’ve only lost one final, to France last year). The only bad note was the injury to Dani Carvajal’s right thigh, which meant that he would miss the final (he’s also out for one month), and to a certain extent, Morata’s head injury. Despite receiving four stitches, he wasn’t expected to miss the final. Didn’t he look adorable in his bandage? And Sergi Gómez helpfully tweeted a picture of the injury to my poor Alvarito’s head.
As for the rest of the games, Spain started out by beating Belgium 4-1 (Sarabia, Alcácer, Muñiz, Morata) in their debut, beating Serbia 4-0 (Morata hat trick, Juanmi) in the second game and losing 0-3 to Turkey in the third game (which didn’t matter).
Three of the players also made it to the best XI of the tournament: Álex, Álvaro Morata and Gerard Deulofeu. Meanwhile, Ginés Meléndez will step down from his role as coach to take charge of coordinating all the teams. Of his U-19 team, he said, “today is a day for the boys and I’m happy for them. It’s a triumph for the base of Spanish football. They promised me they were going to win and I’m proud of them.” He was even seen wiping away tears as the boys received their championship trophy. I love him!!! This was his 11th title, and fourth of the category, as he coached Spain to wins in 2004, 2006 and 2007 as well.
The team arrived back in Spain on Aug. 2, with team captain Pablo Sarabia carrying the trophy as it touched down on Spanish territory (and wheeling it out of the airport on a luggage cart). They then headed to Las Rozas to bring their trophy to the RFEF museum and to have lunch together. As the boys posed with the trophy for the press inside the museum, Ginés moved to get out of the way, but his players waved him into the photo. Sergi Gómez and Gerard Deulofeu were the absences, as they flew directly to the U.S. to join their club in pre-season training. Of note: the World Cup is obviously the big attraction, but the Copa del Rey dropped by Sergio Ramos is not far behind in terms of popular acclaim.
And here are some of the photos that Sergi Gómez, a very prolific twitterer, tweeted. This was good for me, because he and MFC Álvaro Borja Morata Martín had a great bromance during the tournament, and it was adorable seeing them together.
And to end, a bonus pic and some videos.
Go here to see the team’s doctor Ortan Chiviri acting as crazy as the players, here for the players playing around with Cuatro’s “podemos” slogan (and having trouble saying which club they play for) and here for the best moments from the celebration, which includes dancing, tears, the manteo, Álex the bullfighter and shouts of “champiñones, champiñones” and “esta noche, ¡la vamos a liar!
The U-20 team
Julen Lopetegui’s U-20 team started out their quest for the World Cup on a good note, after two goals from Rodrigo and one each from Koke and Isco (penalty) gave Spain a 4-1 victory against Costa Rica on July 31. The second game, on Aug. 3, saw Spain beating Ecuador 2-0 behind goals from Sergio Canales and Álvaro Vázquez. This pushed Spain into the round of 16, and so their only objective for their last group stage game against Australia was to finish first in their group. And they did that, pummeling Australia 5-1 on Aug. 6, with Canales and Álvaro Vázequez repeating as goal scorers – and Alvarito scoring a hat trick in only 13 minutes – and Sergi Roberto chipping in as well. This means that Spain has won three out of three, and scored 11 goals in those three games.
Spain will face South Korea (eek – bad memories of another World Cup!!) in the round of 16. Spain will prolong its stay in Manizales, as the game will be played on Aug. 10 at 17h local time at the Estadio de Palogrande.
The only bad news was that goalkeeper Aitor Fernández had to leave the team’s concentración after injuring his right elbow – he partially tore a ligament when making a save – during the training session on Aug. 4. He was sent off with a round of applause from his teammates. As per FIFA’s rules, the team can’t replace him. Aitor had started the first game against Costa Rica.
By the way, Luis Milla is in Colombia with the team, as he’s one of Julen Lopetegui’s assistants (their roles were reversed during the U-21 Euro in Denmark).
They also had their share of cute moments. When Sergio Canales made his return to the training sessions from injury, his teammates gave him applause and a manteo, and he was nearly dropped, prompting him to tweet (affectionately) that they had nearly re-injured him. ¡Qué gracioso!
They also took a ride in some gondolas, resulting in these hilarious photos. Sergio showed his true age, no?
On Aug. 4, the team, in response to an invitation by Manizales mayor Álvaro Martínez, paid a visit to the town’s police school, where they got to hang around with police dogs and horses. The dogs even acted as bulls and did some passes! They also got to try out the a fruit indigenous to Colombia, the mangostino.
It was also cute how the U-20 team sent a message to encourage the U-19 team from Colombia. And the video was even more adorable, with the typical funny noises, gestures and relaxed posing that are hallmarks of all La Roja teams (and unfortunately, a lot of thumbs up). There was even an appearance by the Virgin! El capi Marc Bartra was responsible for relaying the message. This was all expected, as many of them have played together in the lower categories of the national team, and some are club teammates.
And later on, they toasted the U-19 victory! I love the fraternity!! All the boys of the U-19, U-20 and senior teams have tweeted up a storm this summer during national team play, congratulating each other for victories/trophies/goals/call-ups, commiserating with injured players and asking others to support the other team! All the players of La Roja are una piña y una familia!!!
And Dani Pacheco has been writing a diary for Marca, in which he relates the amusing incidents he and his teammates have gone through. In Chapter I, the team had a free morning, which they used to go shopping and have lunch (cooked up by the legendary Javier Arbizu, of course). In the afternoon, they had a training session, and had to spend some time in “water with ice (it was frozen!),” during which “some suffered… and others (I was one of them) used the time to message via Blackberry inside the freezing water.” Dani also said he played PS3 with Carles Planas and Recio that day, and that “Recio is the person with THE MOST LUCK IN THE WORLD” (I guess we know who won the games, no?).
In Chapter III, he told the anecdote of how he, Isco, Bartra, Oriol, Sergi Roberto, Luna and Planas spent 15 minutes trapped in their hotel’s elevator. He said it was funny, because Marc Bartra got really nervous while the rest of them laughed. And he also revealed more about the dinner in which they toasted the U-19 team’s triumph. Dani said those players who are playing with the U-20 for the first time had to give a little speech, which once again showed the union and good humor that exist in the group, as do all their games of PS3 and cards, as well as the music in their rooms.
Marca has also been giving mini-questionnaires to the players, and I loved some of Álex’s replies. He was asked what was the last piece of news he received from Spain, and his reply was “that my parents went to the beach.” And when questioned if this concentración could survive without Internet, he responded, “No! When the Internet fails, panic spreads throughout the hotel.” Jajaja!
Some of the tweets and pictures from the boys.
Dani Pacheco (obviously the Sergi Gómez of this team) started the craziness early, tweeting this photo of Oriol Romeu sleeping on the plane on the way to Colombia. He seems to be very much into this, because he also recently tweeted two photos of his roommate Recio sleeping in their room (having fallen asleep while on the computer) and on the bus. Recio threatened to open a twitter account “and then we’ll see what happens…”
We also got exchanges like these ones. Dani to Álvaro Vázquez: it’s time to sleep. Álvaro to Dani: shhh, I’m watching The Pirates of the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Jordi Amat tweeted, “someone should tell Dani Pacheco to put down his mobile phone for one minute!” while Jorge Pulido wrote, “Dani, put your phone in the ice…”
Álvaro tweeted this photo of him, Sergio Canales, Antonio Luna and Álex Sánchez eating at the airport in Bogota, but what I wanted to draw your attention to is their hands. I can’t escape it! Next up was this cute photo from Álvaro of him with Jordi Amat and Sergi Roberto after a game. And Dani Pacheco is the one behind this photo of him with Carles Planas, “with the ugliness of Oriol Romeu behind us.”
And the adorable Isco took pictures of some of the motivational posters from the locker room, including one in which his bromance buddy Álex appears in.
Marca is promoting the official swimming trunks of the national team. Yes, such a thing exists. And in adult and child sizes too. But unfortunately, they chose not to market it by having La Roja players pose while wearing it. How cute would it have been to see the likes of Xabi and Jon Alonso modeling them?