The Spain coach, Luis Enrique, delivered more than one surprise when he announced his second-to-last squad before the World Cup while pedalling back-country roads around the hills of Madrid. The 25-man squad for Nations League games included the newcomers Nico Williams, Athletic Bilbao’s 20-year-old winger, and Borja Iglesias, Real Betis’ 29-year-old striker.
Dressed in a red-and-yellow Spain cycling outfit, Enrique revealed the squad via a pre-recorded video filmed while riding his bike that was released on Spain’s Twitter account. The former Barcelona player and coach, who keeps in shape at age 52 thanks to running and biking, called it his “homage to the recent Spanish Vuelta” cycling race that finished last Sunday. The video showed names of the selected players superimposed on the winding roads as he cycled along.
The head coach was unable to count on several injured players who helped Spain reach the semi-finals of last summer’s European Championship, including the forwards Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal and Dani Olmo as well as the central defender Aymeric Laporte.
The most noticeable absence is Ansu Fati, who is playing limited minutes for Barcelona but is expected to be in Qatar. Also out is the former captain Sergio Ramos, who has returned to action with Paris Saint-Germain after a long injury layoff.
At a news conference following Luis Enrique’s latest unusual online squad announcement, the coach said he had dropped Ansu because he has only started one game for Barcelona this season. The coach had called up the 19-year-old striker in June. “We hope he can recover his best form, and maybe he will in the next 30 days,” Luis Enrique said. “We still have great expectations for Ansu.”
The forward Marco Asensio made the squad despite little playing time for Real Madrid, while Valencia’s holding midfielder Hugo Guillamón is listed as a defender in the squad.
Iglesias is called up after scoring four goals in five Spanish league games for Betis this season. Williams scored his first Spanish league goal in the last round in victory for Bilbao – his older brother and Bilbao teammate, Iñaki Williams, will play for Ghana at the World Cup after switching allegiance to the country of his parents.
“[Nico] Williams has velocity, dribbling, he is a pure winger,” Luis Enrique said. Iglesias has “the ability to combine well with teammates, he has a good scoring touch, and I like how he plays, always with a smile”.
Spain host Switzerland in Zaragoza on 24 September then play Portugal in Braga three days later in the Nations League.