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Soccer-Spanish youngsters have big shoes to fill, Koke says

Reuters

June 20 (Reuters) - Spain's emerging generation of players will find it extremely difficult to match the achievements of the team over the past six years but they will give it their best shot, midfielder Koke said on Friday.

Koke is expected to be handed a regular central midfield role when Xavi and Xabi Alonso retire from international football and is one of the most promising of a crop of talented youngsters along with the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Isco.

Xavi, 34, and Alonso, 32, have almost certainly played their last major tournament and end their Spain careers on a painful note after the World Cup holders lost their opening two Group B games and were eliminated from the finals in Brazil.

"It will very difficult for the youngsters to match what this team has done because it's an historic achievement," Koke told a news conference at Spain's training base in Curitiba.

"We will try to be up to the task," added the 22-year-old, whose performances for Atletico Madrid last season helped the club win their first La Liga title in 18 years and reach the final of the Champions League.

Koke paid tribute to Xavi, who was the midfield orchestrator of the team that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 and has himself name Koke as his natural successor.

"We all know how much quality Xavi has and a large part of the success of the national team is down to him," Koke said.

"Hopefully he will continue with this group a long time yet because it is a luxury for us and the national team."

Santi Cazorla, one of a group of established internationals who still have something to offer the team, expressed his support for coach Vicente del Bosque, who has said he is considering his future after Spain's surprise early exit.

Del Bosque must decide whether to see out his contract, which expires after Euro 2016, or step aside to allow his successor to reshape the team for the tournament in France in two years time.

"Vicente has the support of the whole group," Cazorla said.

"I think the future is very bright, there are some very good young players," added the Arsenal midfielder.

Spain play their final Group B game against Australia, who are also out, on Monday. (Writing by Iain Rogers in Brasilia, editing by Nigel Hunt)

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