De Gea made that long-awaited international debut Saturday, playing the final seven minutes of a 2-0 win over El Salvador at FedEx Field in Spain's final World Cup tune-up.
"I'm very happy because it’s my first game with the national team, and obviously it was a great game for us to keep building our form and coming together before the World Cup," De Gea said. "Honestly, I’ve fought a lot. There have been some rough moments for sure. But my hard work has paid off."
De Gea, 23, has spent the past three seasons as the starting goalkeeper at Old Trafford after arriving in the summer of 2011 from Atletico Madrid. Although United struggled this past season, failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 19 years, De Gea enjoyed another strong campaign while compiling 12 shutouts in 37 league starts.
Yet it took a major knee injury to Barcelona's Victor Valdes for De Gea to make Spain's 23-man squad for the World Cup, as the third-stringer behind Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina.
"We have two other keepers who are very talented," De Gea said. "I don’t really care that I had to wait till the end of this little preseason to get my cap. I’m just happy to be here."
With Spain's slate of pre-World Cup friendlies now over, De Gea and his teammates can turn their focus entirely to defending their crown — beginning with a rematch of the 2010 final against the Netherlands on Friday.
"I think we have a pretty good chance at repeating," De Gea said. "Everyone is anxious to get started on our title defense."