FIFA U-17 WC: Bench-warmer Cesar now Spain’s main man

Cesar Gelabert was a bench-warmer for a major part of the U-17 Euros which Spain won earlier this year, starting a game and coming off the bench in another.

Spain has some of the biggest names in under-17 football, including Abel Ruiz – the leading scorer in under-17 European history. Though Gelabert has played a game less, he is now level with the FC Barcelona ‘B’ striker with two goals from as many games.   -  H. Vibhu

Cesar Gelabert was a bench-warmer for a major part of the U-17 Euros which Spain won earlier this year, starting a game and coming off the bench in another.

The junior Real Madrid player was once again on the familiar bench in the FIFA U-17 World Cup’s Kochi marquee opener, painfully watching Brazil defeat Spain.

That defeat forced the Spanish coach Santi Denia to try out a few changes and in came Gelabert, against Niger. He hungrily grabbed the opportunity, scoring a late first-half goal.

Starting the next match, against the very defensive North Korea, the 16-year-old turned out to be the star, scoring a goal and setting up another for his Madrid teammate Mohammed Moukhliss in the 2-0 victory.

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Spain has some of the biggest names in under-17 football, including Abel Ruiz – the leading scorer in under-17 European history. Though Gelabert has played a game less, he is now level with the FC Barcelona ‘B’ striker with two goals from as many games.

When Sportstar asked Gelabert about his new status, the youngster from Alicante who played for third division clubs like Hercules in Valencia before joining the Real Madrid academy in 2015, had a sensible reply.

“Coach Santi has shown his confidence in me and now with my hard work and Santi’s work, I am showing what I can do,” said Gelabert who played just behind the striker   on Friday night.

“I like to play as a midfielder and when I play better, the team also plays better. And that’s how I’ve improved as a team player.”

There is an intense rivalry, apart from deep mistrust, between Barcelona and Madrid and that is why the world loves the El Clasico which, according to Forbes, generates more than $40 million for sponsors.

And with the Catalonia issue now threatening to divide Spain, coach Santi was careful with his comments on Gelabert’s sparkling show.

“Cesar already won a championship in Europe, he is an important player, very talented. But I don’t want to personalise victory,” said Santi.

Friday was a day when the Madrid players sparkled brighter than Spain’s Barcelona stars and perhaps Santi’s comments were focused on keeping the flock together ahead of the knockouts.

Gelabert, however, said that the clubs’ big rivalry was not an issue.

“We have been playing together virtually as one group for the last three years and we have combined well together,” he said.

With France, which walloped Honduras 5-1 on Saturday evening to top Group E,  now confirmed as Spain’s pre-quartefinal opponent, Gelabert was confident of his country’s chances.

“We have already beaten France in the European Championship (quarterfinal which Spain won 3-1) and I think we can do it again,” he said.

With the famed Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane turning up at the juniors’ camp more frequently than previous bosses, Gelabert could be very close to the big stage.

His favourite player is Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and one doesn’t have to explain what his dreams would be like.

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