Football

GMF looks at Spain's rising stars

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Thiago is already starring for Barca. (©GettyImages)
Thiago is already starring for Barca. (©GettyImages).

When Spain lifted the World Cup in South Africa during the summer of 2010, there was no doubt whatsoever that the best team on the planet were celebrating winning the game's greatest prize.

Two years previously, Spain had also deservedly triumphed in the final of the European Championships but, besides the dominance of Barcelona, their form at international level had not necessarily transferred to continental club competitions.

But this season appears to have told a somewhat different story, with Spanish club sides seemingly set to dominate in European competition this year.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are both in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and remain the two favourite sides to win the competition.

The Spanish giants can also only meet in the final, and neutrals across the continent will be hoping Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho can go head-to-head at the Allianz Arena in May.

In the Europa League, meanwhile, there are four sides from La Liga in the last eight of the competition, the most notable being Manchester United's tormentors Athletic Bilbao.

Marcelo Bielsa's side impressed all and sundry with their verve and class against United, and feature a number of hugely gifted players all of whom are, of course, Spanish.

Valencia and Atletico Madrid also still remain in the Europa League, and an all-Spanish clash in Europe's second-tier club competition is not beyond the realms of possibility.

And, with Madrid and Barca also boasting some special young native talents, it would appear supremacy on the international stage could continue for some time.

With this in mind, GMF takes a closer look at some of the rising stars of Spanish football still involved in European competition with La Liga clubs…

Iker Muniain - Athletic Bilbao

Age: 19. Senior international caps: 1

Iker Muniain is regarded as arguably the finest teenage talent currently operating in Spanish football, and his exploits for Athletic have already earned him a full international cap.

The 19-year-old attacking midfielder was awarded the La Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year last season, and has been pivotal once more for Athletic this term as Marcelo Bielsa's side continue to make waves both at home and abroad.

Is surely destined for a huge future for his country, although may struggle for a while to regularly force his way into one of the finest midfields to ever grace the international game.

Jordi Alba - Valencia

Age: 22. Senior international caps: 3

Jordi Alba could almost begin to lay claim to a regular starting berth for Spain, having impressed during each of his three appearances so far, in which he has contributed three assists.

The 22-year-old is able to in midfield or at full-back - and more regularly features in the latter position - and is viewed as Joan Capdevila's long-term successor on the left side of defence for Spain.

Has been particularly impressive in European competition this season - including in the Champions League against Chelsea - and will be an important player for Valencia in their quest for Europa League glory.

Adrian Lopez - Atletico Madrid

Age: 24. Senior international caps: 0

It comes as somewhat of a surprise that Adrian Lopez has yet to feature at senior level for Spain, given his exploits for the under-21 side.

Lopez won the Golden Boot last summer as Spain won the under-21 European Championships in Denmark, and his record for La Rojita stands at nine goals in 19 games.

The 24-year-old forward may, however, be given his opportunity in the lead up to Euro 2012, with his goals having fired Atletico Madrid into the last eight of the Europa League.

Thiago - Barcelona

Age: 20. Senior international caps: 3

Thiago is held in very high regard indeed in Spain, which is no surprise considering his seamless transition from La Masia to the Barcelona first-team.

The 20-year-old midfielder is arguably the most talented in a pool of incredibly gifted young players that will form Spain's next generation, and featured prominently in victory at the under-21 European Championships.

Thiago has made 27 appearances for Barca this season, and is likely to see his role increased even further by Pep Guardiola next term.

Sergio Canales - Real Madrid (on loan at Valencia)

Age: 21. Senior international caps: 0

Much was expected of Sergio Canales when he joined Real Madrid from Racing Santander in the summer of 2010, but the attacking midfielder was always going to struggle to make an impact in a side littered with Galacticos.

Having made only 15 appearances during his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu, Canales has been provided the opportunity to further his education with Valencia.

Canales has undoubted potential and will thrive under the right tutelage, although has missed six months of this season he tore knee ligaments towards the end of last year.

However, could feature again for Valencia in the Europa League, should they progress further in the competition.

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