Spain expands parallel squad after second player tests positive

MADRID (AP) — Spain expanded its parallel squad on yesterday after Diego Llorente became the second player infected with the coronavirus ahead of the European Championship.

Coach Luis Enrique called up 11 players from Spain’s under-21 squad to train separately from the main team in a parallel bubble.

They will join six other players who had already been called up after captain Sergio Busquets tested positive and was put into isolation on Sunday. Llorente tested positive on Tuesday and also had to leave the team’s training camp.

No other players have tested positive so far, the Spanish football federation said.

Llorente’s positive result was made public not long after Spain’s under-21 squad beat Lithuania 4-0 on Tuesday night in Madrid in a match that was supposed to be played by the senior team as its final warm-up before ‘La Roja’ opens its Euro 2020 campaign against Sweden on Monday in Seville.

All but one of the 20 players called up for that match _ Bryan Gil – had played for the senior national team before.

Spain’s coach Luis de la Fuente during the international friendly match between Spain and Lithuani. PHOTO: AP

The friendly counted as a first-team match, with players getting caps and an official debut for coach Luis de la Fuente with the main squad. The last time Spain had 10 players on debut for a senior international was in 1941, against Portugal, after the team had not played since Spain’s Civil War broke out in 1936.

The Spanish federation did not say whether Busquets or Llorente would be cut from the squad.

Luis Enrique had earlier called up six players to practice separately at the team’s training camp: Kepa Arrizabalaga, defender Raúl Albiol, Rodrigo Moreno, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Soler and Brais Méndez. Luis Enrique has until Saturday to make changes to his initial list in case of injuries or COVID-19 cases.

He only selected 24 players instead of the 26 allowed for each national team at Euro 2020, saying he didn’t want to call up too many players who would not likely be used at the tournament.

Among those left out was veteran captain Sergio Ramos – a defender like Llorente – who had been sidelined for most of the second part of the season because of injuries and a spell with COVID-19.

Players who test positive must stay in isolation for at least 10 days, meaning both Busquets and Llorente will miss the opener against Sweden. It would also be unlikely they would be fit for Spain’s second match against Poland on June 19.

The team’s final Group E match will be against Slovakia on June 23, also in Seville.

Spanish media said the national team players could be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the
coming days.

There had been some criticism for the delay in getting players vaccinated, contrary to what happened to the Spanish athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics.