SOCCER

Del Bosque spares under-21s

Coach cites 'Rojita' Italy match as reason for small party

Nacho (left) and Álvaro Morata during a Spain under-21 squad meeting last month.
Nacho (left) and Álvaro Morata during a Spain under-21 squad meeting last month.AS

On announcing his squad for Wednesday's friendly in Panama, Vicente del Bosque defended his decision to stick with the usual suspects despite the number of under-21 players knocking on the door of the senior team. "We would like to take more players, but there is no point making changes for the sake of it," the 61-year-old told a news conference, as he announced a reduced 19-man party for the trip to Central America.

Perhaps more tellingly Del Bosque, after wearily justifying yet another transatlantic turnstile-turner, explained that he had only called up one under-21 player, Barcelona's Martín Montoya, because La Rojita has a date of more sporting significance against Italy.

The under-21 European Championships take place in Israel next year, where Spain will aim to defend the title it won in Denmark last summer. In that side, coached by Luis Milla, Atlético's Adrián López was the top scorer and Chelsea's Juan Mata voted player of the tournament.

Del Bosque knows the value of the youth set-up, which has constantly fed La Roja with new players. The coach elected to leave veterans Gerard Piqué, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres behind for the Panama game in a bid to continue the international embedding of players such as Betis' Beñat Etxeberria and Atlético's Juanfran, while handing a first opportunity to Athletic's Markel Susaeta.

Tuesday's game is a potential dress rehearsal for next year's Euros in Israel

Under-21 coach Julen Lopetegui is carrying out a similar task with his squad. For the Italy match there is no place for Real Madrid forward Álvaro Morata, who scored his debut goal for the first team in Sunday's 1-2 win at Levante, or Málaga's Ignacio Camacho. In their stead, former Real protégé Dani Carvajal, now a first-teamer at Bayer Leverkusen, and Liverpool prospect Suso, just 17 years old, have been called up.

Also in the squad are Málaga's vibrant attacking midfielder Isco and Athletic's Iker Muniain, who have both received senior call-ups already. Villarreal's Diego Mariño is likely to start in goal in the absence of David de Gea while Real has only one representative in the squad, defender Nacho, who is close to breaking through at the Bernabéu. Other established first-team squad members at their clubs include Chelsea's Oriol Romeu, Real Sociedad's Iñigo Martínez and Barcelona's Cristian Tello.

The draw for the 2013 championships is in two weeks' time. For Spain and Italy, Tuesday's game is a potential dress rehearsal for a group match, where either could also face England, Germany or Holland.

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