Sevilla's Gonzalo Montiel. AFP
La Liga stars thrive in Qatar

La Liga stars thrive in Qatar


Spain now has to harness the talents of Gavi, Pedri, Fati and Rodri and reach the standards set by Messi


Friday, 23 December 2022, 12:59


'He's the best there is, the best there's ever been, and the best there ever will be." It was a bold line of commentary after yet another magical Lionel Messi goal a few years ago.

I was accused of hyperbole and maybe that was fair, but I'd argue it is now fact.

Don't worry, this isn't ALL about the little man, but let's acknowledge that by completing the ultimate set of medals, he's elevated himself to the absolute pinnacle of football.

Without him, Argentina wouldn't have won the World Cup. All the leading countries had one player who elevated their team to another level and those who underachieved had one player who didn't live up to his reputation.

Let's face it: this tournament ended Cristiano Ronaldo's top-level career. His powers are now diminished and it appears he'll see out his autumn years in the Saudi Arabian sun.

You could put it down to age, yet Luka Modrić is also 37 and he was once again one of the most outstanding players in Qatar.

Modrić is one of many La Liga players who thrived in the World Cup. There were 16 who earned their living in Spain shared between the squads of the finalists Argentina and France.

A couple of months ago, Atlético Madrid were squabbling with Barcelona about the fee to take Antoine Griezmann off their hands and a clause in the loan contract restricted his playing time. He was one of the most influential players for France; now Atleti could triple the €25 million they paid.

Atlético Madrid were well represented in the final with Rodrigo De Paul acting as the minder for Messi. Nahuel Molina was a model of consistency at right-back and will return to Spain a more accomplished player.

Sevilla are another club whose players have tales to tell from the Doha experience. Gonzalo Montiel goes down in history as the man whose penalty won the shoot-out. It took great mental strength to follow Kylian Mbappé who'd just given France an outside chance.

His club teammate Marcos Acuña is another who returns with a World Cup winner's medal, as does Germán Pezzella of Real Betis.

Another Andalucía-based star whose reputation was enhanced is Yassine Bonou. The Sevilla goalkeeper was outstanding throughout the tournament and his two saves in the shoot-out against Spain led Morocco to the quarterfinals.

Morocco eliminated Spain to trigger a national inquest. Given the unbalanced squad of players, reaching just the last 16 was anticipated but losing to Morocco wasn't acceptable and Luis Enrique stepped aside. He's never been universally popular because of his selection gambles. Generally, they have worked but this time they backfired. It became evident that Sergio Busquets shouldn't have been a starter and David de Gea should have been in goal.

Spain quickly appointed Luis de la Fuente who has been successful with the youth, under-21, and Olympic sides. There are some incredible young players coming through. His task is to harness the talents of Gavi, Pedri, Fati, Rodri and reach the standards set by Messi.


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