Football

Savvy Gavi, 17, shines on record-breaking Spain debut

Midfielder Gavi became Spain's youngest-ever international in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) Nations League semi-final victory over Italy - and immediately showed why coach Luis Enrique had the faith to throw him into the side at 17 years and 62 days old.

Enrique opted to start Gavi in a three-man midfield against the European champions at the San Siro, even though the teenager had made only three starts for his club Barcelona.

Up against the likes of Marco Verratti and Jorginho, Gavi showed no signs of being overawed, producing a debut of rare confidence in the 2-1 win that set up a final against Belgium or France on Monday morning.

Enrique told RAI Sport: "Verratti is his idol! I told him, today you press Verratti from the first moment to the last. He loved it."

Composed on the ball, confident throughout and always looking to bring Spain's attacking players into the game, Gavi's performance left his coach purring.

"We already talked about how he is an unusual case," said Enrique.

"He is playing like in the backyard of his house. It is a pleasure to see a player with this quality and personality.

"He is the future of the national team like many other players but he also showed he is part of the present."

The teenager broke a record that had stood for 85 years - Athletic Bilbao's Angel Zubieta had made his debut for Spain in April 1936 at the age of 17 years and 284 days in a game against Czechoslovakia.

"Nothing (is) too much for him, he has the personality and quality to play at this level," said Enrique, who had faced criticism from the Spanish press over his squad selection.

"The game played out beautifully for us but that was a match of two rivals going at it hammer and tongs with their best strengths on show," he said.

Spain's Ferran Torres scored either side of Leonardo Bonucci's 41st-minute dismissal, before Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled one back for Italy seven minutes from time.

The result ends Italy's world-record run of 37 matches unbeaten and gave Spain a measure of revenge for their Euro 2020 semi-final penalty shoot-out loss to the Azzurri in July.

Said Italy coach Roberto Mancini: "It is better for it to come tonight than in the final of the Euros or the World Cup.

"But this game makes us even stronger despite the defeat and allows us to understand that we are truly a great team." - REUTERS

Football