Luis Enrique praises youngsters debuting with national team

MADRID (AP) — Spain coach Luis Enrique has had only a few days to work with some of the youngsters he called up for the national team for the first time.

He already likes what he sees.

Luis Enrique praised some of the newcomers on Wednesday, especially 18-year-old Pedri González and 20-year-old Bryan Gil. They are among a group of players he brought up from the under-21 squad ahead of World Cup qualifying.

“Pedri already does wonderful things despite his age,” Luis Enrique said of the Barcelona playmaker who has become a regular starter under coach Ronald Koeman. “He is humble, intelligent and a hard worker. He’s a great teammate as well. What I see is a top-level player.”

The praise for Gil was just as high.

“I liked him from the very first time we chatted. He is very mature, very calm,” Luis Enrique said of the Sevilla player who is on a loan at Eibar. “He has this great energy, and talent-wise there is not much else to say. He uses both of his legs well, he protects the ball well, has a great strike and crosses the ball well. He still has to improve as far as goal scoring, but he also has great intensity defensively.”

Gil, Pedri and the other youngsters called up by Luis Enrique were expected to be leading Spain’s under-21 squad at the European Championship in Slovenia and Hungary.

Leipzig midfielder Dani Olmo, who is 22 but had already made the main national team before, would not be eligible for the European competition but also was praised by Luis Enrique.

“He’s one of the players we use the most. He has great quality,” the coach said. “He can play on the flanks or inside. He adds a lot to the team.”

Luis Enrique warned about the comparisons being made about Pedri and former Spain great Andrés Iniesta.

“They are different players,” he said. “I understand the comparisons, but Pedri has to be Pedri. We have to let Pedri improve at his own pace and let him create his own path.”

Spain hosts Greece in the southern Spanish city of Granada in its first Group B match on Thursday and will be without striker Gerard Moreno because of a muscle injury. The team then plays Georgia and Kosovo.

Thursday’s match will be Spain’s first since routing Germany 6-0 in the Nations League last year.

“That’s in the past, it’s part of history,” Luis Enrique said. “It’s not because we routed Germany that we are going to score even more goals on Greece. I was happy with how we had been playing but there are still things to improve.”

He said his team needs to take every qualifier seriously, even when playing against less traditional opponents.

“We know that in the end some good teams like ours will not make it to the World Cup,” Luis Enrique said, “so we have to be prepared from the very first game.”

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