Chelsea's Kepa back for Spain in De la Fuente's first squad


New Spain coach Luis de la Fuente brought back Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga along with several veteran players on Friday when he announced his first squad since replacing Luis Enrique ahead of European championship qualifiers.

De la Fuente only stuck with 11 players that Luis Enrique took to last year's World Cup, when Spain disappointed with a penalty-shootout loss to Morocco in the round of 16.

The group of World Cup players who were dropped included the Barcelona quartet of Jordi Alba, Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati and Éric García, along with Atlético Madrid midfielders Koke Resurrección and Marcos Llorente, and Real Madrid forward Marco Asensio.

In came Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo's 35-year-old striker who made his 18th and last appearance for Spain in 2019. Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernández, 33, returns for the first time since 2018.

Kepa is on the squad for the first time since 2020. Athletic Bilbao goalie Unai Simón, Spain's starter at the World Cup and the last European Championship, is injured.

Spain hosts Norway in Malaga on March 25 before playing Scotland in Glasgow three days later in the first qualifiers for the 2024 European Championship in Germany. Georgia and Cyprus are also in Group A.

Madrid's Dani Ceballos, Bilbao defender Iñigo Martínez, and Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino, are all also back after missing the World Cup. Two strikers, Villarreal's Gerard Moreno and Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal, were recalled after they missed the tournament in Qatar due to injury.

De la Fuente found his replacement for retired holding midfielder Sergio Busquets in Sociedad's Martín Zubimendi, who has only one cap.

Espanyol striker Joselu Mato, who has scored 12 goals in the Spanish league this season, can make his international debut at age 32. The same goes for Osasuna's 29-year-old center back David García.

Four young players who played at the World Cup — teenagers Alejandro Balde (19) and Gavi (18) and 20-year-olds Pedri and Nico Williams — remained on the 26-man squad.

The 61-year-old De la Fuente, a former left back with Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, helped Spain's Under-19 squad win the European Championship in 2015, and the Under-21 team do the same in 2019. He also coached Spain's Olympic team when it won silver at the Tokyo Games.

He knows several players from their spells with Spain's junior teams, but said that did not influence his picks.

"We have not looked to the past, we are looking to the present and future," he said.

De la Fuente has declared himself a "defender of Spain's playing style" based on ball possession.

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