Spain is leading a major football tournament with a creative and technically talented Barcelona player, summoning blows from the central midfield.
Only 18 and now seemingly irreplaceable for the national team, Pedri Gonzalez received the keys to the midfield, which was once the domain of two modern greats in Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
Comparisons are inevitable – and perhaps justified – and will only become more widespread if Pedri leads Spain to the European title in the coming days, just as Xavi and Iniesta did in 2008 and 2012 amid a golden age for the country.
Switzerland should certainly be on top of the new conductor of the midfield of Spanish football in the first quarterfinal match of Euro 2020 in St. Petersburg on Friday.
This is easier said than done.
Pedri, who plays on the left side of the Spanish central midfield with three points, played in his first major tournament – he made his debut in March in the match – and is tied for first place for most chances created (10) and has more passes in the opposition half 233) by any other player.
The youngest Spaniard to play in a European Championship, Pedri also became the youngest knockout player of the tournament – at the age of 18, 215 days – against Croatia in the round of 16.
Perhaps most impressive is that he is one of two outside players in the Spanish team who have played every minute of his team’s Euro 2020 matches.
“Pedri is a unique player,” underestimated Spanish coach Luis Enrique.
Another European Championship record he holds comes with less honors. After 20 minutes of the 5-3 overtime victory over Croatia, Pedri sent a return pass from nearly halfway to Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon, who failed to control the ball and only managed to deflect it into the goal.
This is the longest own goal in the history of the tournament, but Pedri raised this misfortune to present a dominant performance against the highly valued midfield of Croatia, led by veteran Luka Modric.
Pedry’s technique, vision and ability to maneuver in space and find teammates with his insightful passage is astonishing given his age. He is coming out of his first year in Barcelona, which he joined from Las Palmas in the off-season and has already played 60 games for his club and his country this season.
He was also selected to play for Spain at the Tokyo Olympics football tournament.
Don’t expect Luis Enrique to save Pedry’s legs for this.
The midfield will be an area for which Spain will take responsibility against Switzerland, which is missing captain Granit Jaca due to removal.
Xhaka was selected as the man of the UEFA match after Switzerland beat France on penalties – after a 3-3 draw in overtime – to advance to their first quarter-final match of a major World Cup tournament in 1954.
Switzerland faces the difficult task of avoiding a natural comedy after one of the biggest victories in its history.
“No one will ever forget this game,” Swiss midfielder Remo Froyler said on Wednesday.
“No one can take that magical night away from us.”
Spain’s victory over Croatia came that evening, but Luis Enrique had the advantage of calling in a more in-depth squad for a match that took place four days later.
Fatigue and skillful use of substitutes are proving to be a key factor in a tournament that comes from a grueling, pandemic-affected club season. Both teams will probably make changes to refresh themselves for a shot in the semifinals.
But expect Pedry to start again. He is already a player without whom Spain cannot.