Atlético midfielder Mario Suárez earned his first start with the senior Spanish national team in their World Cup qualifier against Finland last Friday.
Colchonero midfielder Koke did as well, while veteran La Roja member David Villa also appeared in the fold for his fellow Rojiblancos’ debuts.
Villa was removed just before the hour mark, and Koke was utilised in the unusual role of right back by Vicente del Bosque, which, unsurprisingly, prevented the Atleti youth academy product from shining on the evening.
Mario, on the other hand, called up given the injuries to regular starters Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, received overwhelmingly positive reviews from Del Bosque and his Selección peers.
“He’s offered us the nerve that the team demanded,” Del Bosque told Spanish paper El Pais following the 2-0 victory.
“It wasn’t going to be an easy task for him. He performed like a man.
“He had a tough mission and he fulfilled it, defensively and offensively. It has been a good day for him and for the team.”
The Spain boss continued: “I told him not to make his life complicated, that he wouldn’t have any problems playing with Xavi and with Iniesta, that they’re used to playing under pressure, and to pay attention to counters–close attention.
“He’s done it very well.”
Mario completed a remarkable 86 of 90 passes against the Finns, recovered 9 balls, lost 2, committed 2 fouls, and was booked for a tough challenge.
“He’s not rough, he’s aggressive, because his role requires him to be decisive,” former Sevilla striker Álvaro Negredo said after the win.
“Mario is a warrior in the midfield and he showed it.”
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla agreed, saying, “Mario’s not a rough footballer. He has a job to do, and against Finland he did it to perfection.”
“He positions himself well, offers us tranquility, and links up easily,” said Spanish icon Andrés Iniesta.
“He’s offered us a lot.”
“Rough?” Mario asked. “Sometimes one has to be, but never with ill intention. I believe I’m a player that is defensively aggressive, in the good sense of the word.
“I’ve only tried to help, because that’s what I came for. To help and learn.”
The 26-year-old explained what it was like to suit up for his country as a starter.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “It’s easy to play when you’re surrounded by the best players in the world.
“It’s different because the national team retains the ball a lot more. At Atlético, we’re much more direct, so with Spain you participate more in the movement of the ball, while at Atlético, you recover more.”
Will we continue to see Mario in his nation’s colours in the future?
“He couldn’t have started better,” Del Bosque said.