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Busquets and Morata out, Ansu Fati and Balde in: How will Spain line up at the 2026 World Cup?

10:00 WAT 08/12/2022
Spain World Cup 2026 GFX
La Roja already have a young core of players who are likely to be mainstays of the team going forward, but who are the new faces who could join them?

For the third successive World Cup, Spain's tournament ended in a disappointingly early exit, with La Roja's last-16 penalty shootout loss to Morocco the latest in an increasingly long line of questionable performances on the biggest stage.

Not since they lifted the trophy for the first time in 2010 have Spain won a knockout match at the World Cup, and it remains to be seen if manager Luis Enrique chooses to stick around given this relative failure.

The good news for whomever coaches the team going forward is that Spain had one of the youngest squads in Qatar, one that was not too different from the group that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 just 18 months ago.

And while the next job is perform well at the next European Championship in 2024, there will be some who are already looking towards the next World Cup in the summer of 2026.

But how will Spain line up in the United States, Canada and Mexico, presuming they qualify of course? GOAL has looked into our crystal ball to try and figure that out...

  • Unai Simon Spain 2022

    GK: Unai Simon

    Spain's No.1 at the last two major tournaments, Unai Simon seems to have established himself as La Roja's first-choice goalkeeper for the foreseeable future.

    The Athletic Club shot-stopper will turn 29 during the opening week of the 2026 World Cup, and so should be entering his prime years at that point, meaning he is likely to retain the gloves for the next global tournament.

    Meanwhile, his back-ups in Qatar, Robert Sanchez and David Raya, will be 28 and 30, respectively, when the next World Cup kicks-off and so could also be in contention again, while Kepa Arrizabalaga will hope that his current career resurgence is not a short-term thing and he can force himself back into the reckoning, with the Chelsea man set to be 31 in the summer of 2026.

  • Jose Angel Carmona Sevilla 2022-23

    RB: Jose Angel Carmona

    With Cesar Azpilicueta currently 33 and Dani Carvajal approaching his 31st birthday, it's clear that Spain's search for a long-term solution is right-back is on.

    Carmona, who will turn 21 in January, projects as a genuine option having impressed upon breaking into the Sevilla first team over the course of the season.

    He is not the only option, however. Sporting C.P. star Pedro Porro has already been capped at international level and will be 26 when the next World Cup rolls around, while Girona teenager Arnau Martinez has earned admiring glances from Barcelona after an eye-catching first half-season in La Liga.

    Keep an eye out, too, for the development of 17-year-old Alejandro Jimenez, who has previously been linked with Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

  • Pau Torres Spain 2022

    CB: Pau Torres

    Torres was surprisingly left out of Luis Enrique's first-choice line up in Qatar, but at just 25, the Villarreal centre-back still has plenty of time to make an impact on the World Cup.

    It would be a surprise if he is not playing his football for one of Europe's truly elite clubs by the time we get to 2026, which should put him in good stead to be a starter in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

    There are younger alternatives who were also part of the 2022 Spain squad in the shape of Valencia's Hugo Guillamon (22) and Barcelona's Eric Garcia (21), but both have more to prove than Torres over the next three-and-a-half years to usurp as the 2026 starter.

  • Aymeric Laporte Spain 2022

    CB: Aymeric Laporte

    Laporte's decision to represent Spain over France has certainly bore fruit in terms of the Manchester City man building an international career, even if the trophies are yet to appear.

    He is likely to be the elder statesman of the defence in 2026 as he will turn 32 shortly before the next World Cup begins, but he profiles as the kind of calming presence La Roja will need at the tournament.

    If you want to look out for a couple of relatively-unknown youngsters who could push Laporte, then Valencia's teenage duo of Cristhian Mosquera and Yacek Gasiorowski are both highly thought of, while there are high hopes at Barcelona for 18-year-old Arnau Casas.

  • Alejandro Balde Spain 2022

    LB: Alejandro Balde

    A late call-up to the squad, Balde backed up the form he has been showing for Barcelona this season with some assured displays in Qatar that belied the fact that he was a 19-year-old who was representing his country for the first time.

    Balde has been regarded as Jordi Alba's long-term successor for both club and country for a couple of years now, and certainly seems on the right track to be Spain's first-choice left-back in 2026, though it is a position that they have incredible depth at.

    Jose Gaya - the player Balde replaced on the eve of the tournament due to injury - will still only be 31 when the next World Cup starts, while Benfica's impressive Alex Grimaldo is only a few months younger than the Valencia star.

    Manchester City's summer signing Sergio Gomez, meanwhile, will be 25 and presumably entering his prime years, while Valencia teenager Jesus Vazquez has also shown enough in his first-team appearances to suggest he has an international career ahead of him too.

  • Rodri Spain 2022

    CM: Rodri

    Rodri was the surprise choice to partner Laporte at the heart of the Spain defence in Qatar, but it almost a given that he will step up into his preferred midfield role in the coming years.

    Sergio Busquets is closing in on international retirement, and Man City star Rodri has been tipped to replace the veteran captain for years now, with that transition likely to be an easy one for whomever is managing La Roja going forward to deal with.

    A potential back-up, meanwhile, could be Liverpool teenager Stefan Bajcetic. He will still be only 21 when the next World Cup gets going, but he has already forced himself onto the fringes of Jurgen Klopp's first-team squad and is seen as a future starter at Anfield.

    Real Sociedad star Martin Zubimendi is another option to make the leap ahead of 2026, too.

  • Gavi Spain 2022

    CM: Gavi

    Having broken a number of records during his first World Cup, Gavi confirmed his world-class talent to a global audience, and is set to be a mainstay of the Spain team for at least the next decade.

    The Barcelona starlet will still only be 21 when the 2026 tournament gets going, and yet it would be a surprise were he not to be a starter at what is set to be his third major international competition.

    Other members of the 2022 squad such as Carlos Soler (25) and Marcos Llorente (27) are still young enough to potentially get another go in three-and-a-half years, while a name to watch out for in La Liga over the next few years is Dani Perez, who has already made his Real Betis debut despite having only turned 17 in July.

  • Pedri Spain 2022

    CM: Pedri

    Perhaps a future captain of Spain further down the line, Pedri is the kind of player an international team builds it self around for 10-15 years, such is his incredible talent.

    The Barcelona midfielder only turned 20 in late November but has already been a starter at two major tournaments, and expect him to be among the most talked-about players heading into the 2026 World Cup.

    While none are quite at Pedri's level, it won't come as a surprise that Spain have plenty more technically-gifted central midfielders coming through who could join him in the squad over the coming years.

    His Barcelona team-mate Pablo Torre has already scored in the Champions League after moving to Camp Nou in the summer, while fellow teenagers Aleix Garrido and Cesar Palacios have been standout performers in this season's UEFA Youth League for Barca and Real Madrid, respectively.

  • Yeremy Pino Spain 2022

    RW: Yeremy Pino

    Yeremy Pino might not have made it onto the pitch at the 2022 World Cup, but his first experience of major tournament is still likely invaluable to the Villarreal winger going forward.

    Routinely linked with the biggest clubs in both Spain and England, he will be just 23 when the 2026 tournament rolls around, and we predict he will win what promises to be an intriguing battle for a starting berth on the right side of Spain's attack.

    Nico Williams is just a couple of months older than Yeremy and was ahead of him in the pecking order in Qatar, and so expect him to be his main competition going forward, but there are others from outside the squad to track too.

    Hopes are still high that Bryan Gil will return on the potential he showed a couple of seasons ago, even if his time at Tottenham has not gone well, while Barcelona teenager Ilias Akhomach has been regarded as a special talent for a number of years, though Spain face a battle with Morocco regarding his international future.

  • Ansu Fati Spain 2022

    LW: Ansu Fati

    Had injuries not plagued him so much in the 18 months leading into the World Cup, then Ansu Fati may well have been a starter for Spain in Qatar, so prodigious is the Barcelona youngster's talent.

    Time is, however, on the 20-year-old's side, and he will now hope for a clean bill of health over the next few years so as to properly establish himself as a starter for club and country.

    He will face competition at international level, however. Dani Olmo is still getting better at the age of 24 while Mikel Oyarzabal, who missed out on this World Cup due to injury, should retain his status as a key squad member as he moves into the second half of his 20s.

    Much is expected, too, of Barcelona's teenager duo of Angel Alarcon and Dani Rodriguez, the latter of whom impressed at last summer's Under-17s European Championship.

  • Ferran Jutgla Club Brugge 2022-23

    ST: Ferran Jutgla

    Spain's biggest problem at recent tournaments has been the lack of a reliable goalscorer, and whether they are able to fix that issue will likely determine how successful they are going forward.

    The form of Ferran Jutgla so far this season, then, has caught the eye, with the ex-Barcelona forward having scored nine goals and provided six assists in his first half-season at Club Brugge.

    He will be 27 come the summer of 2026, and so should be in his prime years, and certainly profiles as the answer to his country's problems given his fine goalscoring record at youth level while in La Masia.

    Other alternatives we considered included Ferran Torres, who has arguably played the best football of his career as a central forward and is still just 22, and Iker Bravo, the 17-year-old wonderkid who has already played in the Bundesliga and is currently impressing in Real Madrid's youth sides having previously been at Barcelona.

    We can't rule out Alvaro Morata making it to 2026 either, given the much-maligned striker will still only be 33 when the next global tournament comes into view.