Sport

QATAR 2022

Spain’s youngsters to draw on Olympics experience for Japan clash, and beyond

Spain’s youngsters to draw on Olympics experience for Japan clash, and beyond
Pedri of Spain in action against Joshua Kimmich of Germany during their World Cup Group E match. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ronald Wittek)

Tokyo 2020 Olympics silver medallists Spain have incorporated a few players involved in that run to second place in Japan a year ago. Each of those players is eyeing a run to the final in Qatar World Cup – with hopes that they can walk away with gold this time.

Spain may look to their younger players to seal their round-of-16 spot at the Qatar World Cup when they meet Japan on Thursday night. Some of those players, including Villarreal defender Pau Torres, will be drawing on their 2020 Tokyo Olympics experience to help them prepare.

A number of Spain’s under-23 squad from Tokyo are now in Qatar, and remember their semifinal clash with Japan all too well. Spain won 1-0 and eventually took the silver medal, while Japan lost in the bronze-medal match to Mexico.

“In the semifinal we needed to go all the way to extra time to win,” Torres, who played all six of Spain’s games in Tokyo, told Reuters on the eve of his country’s clash with Japan.

The two sides also drew in a friendly before the Games.

Serge Gnabry of Germany in action against Jordi Alba (left), Dani Olmo (second from right) and Pedri of Spain during their Group E World Cup match. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Rungroj Yongrit)

“Japan is a very organised team, very consistent in what they do. I always think they have the game under control, they don’t get out of the game until the final minutes,” Torres said.

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“And they are comfortable defending without the ball, they don’t need to feel that they have possession to be comfortable. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Other Spanish players in Qatar who played at the Olympics are striker Marco Asensio, midfielders Pedri and Dani Olmo, as well as goalkeeper Unai Simon.

After Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their opening match, they made numerous changes to their side and ended up losing 1-0 to Costa Rica, who had been trashed by Spain 7-0 in their opener.

Torres suggested the Asian side may have let their opening win go to their heads.

“Maybe it was overconfidence, having won the first game, as well as having seen our result against Costa Rica,” the defender said. “We made that match look easy, and then we could see that, after all, it wasn’t easy at all.”

Marco Asensio of Spain tries to fend off Leon Goretzka (left) and Niklas Sule of Germany. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Rungroj Yongrit)

Spain could have booked their last-16 spot already but drew their second match against Germany, meaning it all comes down to match number three.

“Against Germany we knew that they could challenge us a bit for possession. We played a bit in a similar way,” Torres said.

“We are perhaps a little more organised when it comes to pressing and we took the lead. After that goal they started to accumulate more people in attack and I think it was a fair draw.”

Seven games

Following Spain’s opener, coach Luis Enrique said he would rotate his young squad because “he was not going to play with the same line-up for seven games”.

Asked what the key message was in the coach’s statement, Torres – who has yet to play in Qatar, his first World Cup – was perfectly clear.

“That we’re going to go all the way to the final, right?” he said with a smile. “Hopefully, whoever plays, we’ll get to play all seven of them. It will mean that we are doing very well… We can compete against anyone.”


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Between tournament duties, the young Spanish players have been soaking up the experience, and not only on the pitch.

“We are lucky that there have been four different [group-stage fixture] schedules throughout the day,” Torres said.

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“If we train in the morning, we can watch the midday and afternoon games. We have a room where we can get together, with a big screen to watch the football, and there are always several teammates there,” he said.

Dani Olmo (right) of Spain competes for the ball against Germany’s Thomas Mueller. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ronald Wittek)

“Germany’s defeat against Japan, Argentina’s one against Saudi Arabia show that the level in this World Cup is very high. No matter which team you play you always have to be prepared for anything.”

The 2010 World Cup winners battle with Japan at 9pm, the same time as Germany and Costa Rica. The winners of each game will progress to the round of 16. Reuters/DM

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