Young guns and tropical islands

Pol Lozano (21) joins the celebrations

It’s a wet Wednesday following on from a damp Tuesday here in Barcelona, but the international pericos have left EFB with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Spain under-21s

Spain u-21s vs. Montenegro

Pol Lozano made his debut for Spain under-21s yesterday, in their 2-0 EURO under-21 victory over Montenegro. Starting alongside Celta Vigo’s Fran Beltrán in a holding midfield position, the match was barely a minute old when Lozano sparked the move which led to the opening goal. Dropping deep between the centre-backs, he picked out roving left-winger Marc Cucurella with a long ball, the Getafe man laying off to Dani Olmo on the edge of the box. Olmo is the veteran and star of this under-21 side, and he continued his fine form here by curling a finish into the top corner. He would double his tally before 10 minutes were gone, pouncing on defensive mixup to cheekily stroke home through the keeper’s legs. 

Let’s just take a moment to emphasise what we mean by fine form. Olmo now has six goals and three assists in 12 games since making his under-21 bow last October, and was the big breakthrough in the victorious EURO under-21 championships this summer. He has started the season like a house on fire for Dinamo Zagreb too, with four goals and four assists in their opening six games, successfully dragging them through the Champions League qualifying rounds. At 21 years old, he already has two full seasons as a starter under his belt for the Croatian champions, and a sackful of trophies to go with it. The obvious question is what on earth he is doing in Zagreb. 

Olmo, originally from Terrassa, was actually associated with RCD Espanyol Fútbol Base until he was nine years old (a tenuous claim, I know), before switching sides and joining the FC Barcelona youth system. There, he progressed to captain the under-15 side (cadetes), and was their top scorer in the 2013-14 season. This was when Dani and his family made the apparently left-field decision to sign for Dinamo. As he said at the time, though, first team opportunities were sure to come quicker in Zagreb, and he would have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of former players Modric, Mandzukic, Kovacic and Halilovic. Seen in this light, it was a brave decision, and, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps a commendable one. This summer, the time seemed ripe for a transfer back to one of the big European leagues, an opinion shared by Dani himself. Whatever offers there may have been did not meet Dinamo’s reported €40m valuation of their number seven, however, and, to his credit, Olmo has knuckled down to keep producing the goods. Champions League fixtures against Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Atalanta will only serve to shove him further into the shop window, so 2020 will surely be the year when he gets his move. 

Yesterday in Castellón, just the two goals would suffice, and Spain under-21s made it two from two in the qualifying campaign. Lozano played the full 90 minutes and made a positive impression in a side which included several starters at club level, which suggests that maybe he is not too far down the pecking order at Espanyol. Lozano and Javi Puado will now rejoin the first team ahead of Sunday’s league clash with Eibar at Ipurua. 

Highlights of Spain 2-0 Montenegro in the EURO under-21 qualifiers

Meanwhile, in the Maldives

Marcelo Lippi’s China got the second phase of the Asian World Cup 2022 qualifiers off to the kind of start they hoped for with a 0-5 win in the Maldives yesterday. Wu Lei started on the right of a front three, and stooped to head in the second goal just before half time. It was something of a poacher’s goal, and Espanyol will hope to see him getting in to these kind of positions on a more regular basis over the coming weeks. 

Wu Lei scores the second for China against the Maldives

Asian World Cup qualifiers are something of a slog, and China will need to win their group, or finish as one of the best runners-up, to progress to the third and final qualifying  stage. Their main rivals in group A are Syria, who opened their campaign with a 2-5 win in the Philippines. China are hoping to qualify for the World Cup for only the second time, having lost against Costa Rica, Brazil and Turkey at the 2002 edition in Japan & South Korea. It is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of Wu Lei’s star in Chinese football, but the fact he is starting games and having a positive impact in La Liga is in itself cause for celebration. For his part, Wu told Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency, that his teammates have helped him adapt to life in Spain, and discussed the pressure that comes with being the only Chinese representative in the top European leagues in a recent interview. 

Right, that’s all for now. The countdown is on for the Eibar game, so we’ll be fully focused on that next time out. Cheerio!

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