World Cup: Spain’s golden boy glitters on global stage
Not many teams can boast of a teenage midfield starlet with all the potential in the world. Spain can boast of two.
Before the World Cup began, doubters had been many on whether Gavi, the 18-year-old 2022 Golden Boy and Kopa Trophy winner for best Under-21 European league footballer, was up to the task like his fellow teen sensation Pedri, who turns 20 on Friday.
But did he silence those doubters against Costa Rica!
The Barcelona midfielder put in a slick and mature performance showcasing his dribbling ability, vision and technique. He was everywhere on the pitch — tracking back to help the defence, moving up the pitch when his team was on the attack, sprinting on the flanks to stretch the opposition defence. Tireless running, hard tackles, neat passes, ability to create space in tight situations — Costa Rica got a taste of ubiquitous Gavi on Wednesday at the Al Thumama Stadium.
And then there was his goal.
Gavi ran into the box to intercept substitute Alvaro Morata’s cross from the left and his first-time volley hit the base of the near post and crashed into the net in the 74th minute. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas stood rooted to the ground. “Coach (Luis Enrique) always tells me to come into the box and shoot. So when I saw Morata’s ball coming I knew I had to run and shoot,” Gavi said at the news conference after the 7-0 rout.
In the process, he became, at 18 years 110 days, the youngest goal-scorer after Pele and the youngest ever for Spain in a World Cup, eclipsing Cesc Fabregas.
“Yes, I know about the Pele thing. Someone told me after the match. I am very happy to score my first goal and also happy we began so well,” he said, confidence oozing.
Gavi’s career graph has been impressive. He first started at the Real Betis academy and then moved to Barcelona at the age of 11. He was doing great things with the youth teams and in the summer of 2021 caught the eye of then manager Ronald Koeman, who had given another Pedri a break a season earlier. The Dutchman pushed Gavi ahead and soon he became a regular feature for the Catalan giants. That was the time when Barca were struggling with their finances and superstar Lionel Messi had just left for Paris Saint-Germain.
Spain coach Luis Enrique was also keeping a tab on Gavi’s development as a player and called him to the national team in October 2021. This June he became the youngest scorer for Spain.
“He’s a unique player, a very different player because... he’s 18 but has the personality of an experienced player,” Enrique said on Wednesday. “We’re happy to have him in the team and we think he’s going to be one of the stars of world football. I hope he will go and play better every time better and try to be aggressive with the ball and without the ball. He just needs a little calm and poise at times,” Enrique said.
Gavi’s performance was the icing on the cake on a night when the talented and young Spanish side toyed with their rivals. Historically, Spain are known to make stuttering starts in World Cups — even in 2010 when they won the title, they had lost to Switzerland. But it was a different story on Wednesday.
They did not concede a single corner and did not allow Costa Rica even a shot on target. “We played brilliantly,” Gavi said.
Pedri, his midfield partner-in-crime at the club as well as in the national team who won the Golden Boy award last year, also shone as the 19-year-old’s pass gave Spain the lead. “Pedri and I are very good friends off the pitch and on the pitch there is not much to say, he’s a spectacular player and it’s very easy to play alongside him.”
Gavi’s next test will be against Germany on Sunday. A win will ensure a last-16 berth for Enrique’s team.