BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain coach Luis Enrique delivered more than one surprise when he announced his second-to-last squad before the World Cup while pedaling back-country roads around the hills of Madrid on Friday.
The 25-man squad for upcoming Nations League games was released Friday and included newcomers Nico Williams, Athletic Bilbao’s 20-year-old winger, and Real Betis’ 29-year-old striker Borja Iglesias.
Dressed in a red-and-yellow Spain cycling outfit, Luis 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 earlier this month.
Luis Enrique has the habit of naming his squads in attention-grabbing videos, and this was one of the most creative so far. The video showed names of the selected players imposed on the hilly and winding road as Luis Enrique cycled along.
Luis Enrique was unable to count on several injured players who helped Spain reach the semifinals of the European Championship last year, including forwards Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal and Dani Olmo and central defender Aymeric Laporte.
The most noticeable absence is Ansu Fati, who is playing limited minutes for Barcelona but expected to be in Qatar. Nor did Luis Enrique opt for former captain Sergio Ramos, who after a long injury layoff is back to playing for Paris Saint-Germain.
Luis Enrique said at a news conference Friday that he 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.”
Forward Marco Asensio also made the squad despite little playing time for Real Madrid, while Valencia holding midfielder Hugo Guillamón was listed as a defender by Luis Enrique.
Iglesias finally got the call after scoring four goals in five Spanish league games for Betis this season.
Nico Williams scored his first Spanish league goal in the last round in a victory for Bilbao.
Nico’s older brother and Bilbao teammate, Iñaki Williams, will play for Ghana at the World Cup after switching allegiance from Spain 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 hosts Switzerland in Zaragoza on Sept. 24 and plays Portugal in Braga three days later in the Nations League.
Spain leads Group 2 with eight points, one more than Portugal. The Czech Republic is also in the group.
Goalkeepers: Unai Simón (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sánchez (Brighton), David Raya (Brentford)
Defenders: Pau Torres (Villarreal), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), José Gayà (Valencia), Hugo Guillamón (Valencia), Diego Llorente (Leeds), Eric García (Barcelona), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri Hernández (Manchester City), Pedri González (Barcelona), Koke Resurrección (Atlético Madrid), Gavi Páez (Barcelona), Carlos Soler (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid)
Forwards: Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain), Nico Williams (Athletic Bilbao), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid), Borja Iglesias (Real Betis), Yeremy Pino (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Barcelona)
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Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press