Spain bank on Ruiz to deliver

Under-17 World Cup

Spain bank on Ruiz to deliver

There are two obvious superstars that kids growing up in the 21st century idolise — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Abel Ruiz does not belong to this group.

“It’s not that I don’t like them, but I look up to players like Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez and Marco Van Basten,” says Ruiz when asked about his favourites.

Just like his choice among football stars, Ruiz is a stand out with his talent too. The 17-year-old is the latest from the famed Barcelona academy La Masia to gather eyeballs across Europe. So it is no surprise that Ruiz has emerged as one of the ‘superstars in making’ at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

After netting four goals and guiding Spain to their ninth title at the U-17 European Championships earlier in the year and a handful of the quality performances in the Segunda division for Barcelona ‘B’, Ruiz looked set to lead his side to another title triumph at this global event. But the hype soon fizzled out when Spain began their campaign a few weeks ago.

Knowing that Ruiz could prove to a destroyer if not contained early, teams marked him tightly and choked him for space. Though this worked for some time, Ruiz showed his quality as the competition progressed. Winning the ball by the half-line, the Valencia-born would race ahead, dribble past a few to make room for a shot at the goal. In the semifinal against Mali too, Ruiz’s goal-poaching skills were on display as he snubbed his marker on the turn to slot in the second goal for his side.

“Yes, I had a slow start, but that didn’t bother me much. It doesn’t matter if I score or not, I try to keep the ’keeper as busy as possible,” he says.

The Spanish head coach Santiago Sanchez said he wasn’t surprised by Ruiz’s late burst of form. “It’s not a surprise. He’s not just the captain but one of the key players in this side,” Sanchez said.

“He is very demanding of himself. He was the first one to realise that he didn’t have a good start to the competition and he wanted to rectify that. When you see your captain put in those hard yards to improve himself, that rubs off on others too.”

In the final, Spain will be up against a known rival in England. Having beaten the Young Lions in the U-17 Euro final early this year, Ruiz is confident of getting past the hurdle once again for their maiden U-17 World Cup.

“We have already played them once and we have an idea of how the team shapes up. I am very excited for the final here. Let’s see how that goes,” he signed off.


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