- Spain will head to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 as European champions
- Three times runners-up, the Spanish have never won the world title in the age group
- We spoke to two of the team’s key players: Abel Ruiz and Mateu Morey of Barcelona
“He’s a bullet,” said Rojita captain Abel Ruiz of his team-mate Mateu Morey, a compliment that is quickly repaid: “Abel has the lot as a player and he contributes an awful lot to the team.”
As well as being Spain team-mates, both play for Barcelona – Morey for the club’s youth A team and Abel for the B side – and even share a room at La Masia, the famous Azulgrana academy. “There’s a good vibe between us,” said Abel, describing an understanding that could be seen in Spain’s opening goal of the 2017 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final against England, which La Rojita won 4-1 on penalties after scoring late in normal time to force a 2-2 draw.
An out-and-out No9, Abel latched on to a through-ball in the area and, after looking up to see Morey making a surging run into the area, laid the ball off for the right-back to lash high into the net. As Abel went on to explain, there was nothing improvised about the move: “We always speak about it, playing passes like that into space, because he gets forward a lot and makes those runs inside.”
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) July 7, 2017
The forward and the defender have such a good understanding that they accounted for 58 per cent of the goals Spain scored at the European finals, with Abel getting four and Morey three. The pair are hungry for more at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, to be held from 6-28 October.
“The night after we won the European Championships I was already dreaming of winning the World Cup,” Abel told FIFA.com. “We’re incredibly excited about it because nobody’s done it before.”
While the Spanish have won two European crowns at U-17 level and no fewer than six at U-16, the world title in the age group has always eluded them. Runners-up in 1991, 2003 – with a team led by Cesc Fabregas and David Silva – and 2007, La Rojita also finished third in 2009.
There is no little desire in the side to claim the only world title Spain’s men have yet to lift, so much so in fact that the messages are already coming thick and fast in the squad’s WhatsApp group chat, even though the tournament is still two months away. “It was called ‘Campeones de Europa’, but with the World Cup just around the corner, we’ve just changed it to ‘Loading La India 50 per cent’,” explained a smiling Morey.
“We don’t talk about anything else,” added Abel. “We were all together for a month at the European Championships and we can’t wait to see each other again.”
Abel the veteran
The joint all-time leading scorer at the European Under-17 Championships with eight goals – a distinction he shares with Amine Gouiri and Odsonne Edouard of France – the forward was something of a veteran at this year’s competition, having also appeared at the 2016 tournament, where Spain finished runners-up.
In recognition of his status, coach Santi Denia handed him the captain’s armband. “It’s an honour to wear it,” said Abel. “We’re all the same age and it’s tough, but I tried to help my team-mates with everything I learned from the previous year.”
Having his say, Morey commented: “The key to our success was that we listened to all the advice we got from the coach and from Abel and everyone. We were able to listen and we got better together. And it paid off in the end.”
The upcoming World Cup will be a new experience for the entire squad. And while they might be lacking in experience, the young Spaniards will make up for it with their excitement at taking part. “It’s a wonderful challenge ahead of us and we want to make history,” said Abel.
With their dynamic duo to inspire them, Spain could be about to complete their set of world titles.