Castilla stars make the most of their Doha debuts

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Jese Rodriguez AllsportJese Rodriguez continued to impress with the winner in Doha.

The millionaires of world football met in the millionaire's playground of Qatar to kick-off 2014 with a friendly that was more about marketing than meaningful preparation for the resumption of La Liga this weekend.

Real Madrid took on Paris St Germain in front of 50,000 fans in Doha and although the long trip may be far from ideal for Carlo Ancelotti and his players during the winter "break", in the days of financial fair play, these type of matches are crucial.

The result was pretty irrelevant, but Los Blancos edged what was a relatively entertaining friendly contest 1-0 thanks to Jese's 19th-minute strike. The former Castilla man scored Madrid's last goal of 2013 and hit the ground running with the winner against the French club to enhance his growing reputation.

The result was identical to Madrid's 1-0 friendly win over the Parisiens in Stockholm in the summer, when Karim Benzema scored the winner in the 23rd minute.

The A-list players from both clubs got an outing, so that meant another duel between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although Iker Casillas, waiting on the birth of his child, and the injured Gareth Bale were absent for Madrid. Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao also remained in the Spanish capital.

Ancelotti's former club, now managed by Laurent Blanc, could count themselves unfortunate to lose the game given the chances they carved out in both halves. Both teams created plenty in front of goal but only Jese managed to add a finishing touch.

That will have at least pleased the thousands of Madrid fans that packed into the Khalifa Stadium -- which will be used for the 2022 World Cup -- who got the chance to see their heroes in the flesh, instead of on television.

It was not all money and marketing, not completely. Ancelotti got the chance to throw in some Castilla players to give them the experience of first-team football. It may have only been a friendly, but some of the world's best players were on display and players such as Diego Llorente, Jorge Casado, Jaime Romera, Jose Rodriguez and goalkeeper Jesus Fernandez got the chance to play with and against them.

It's been a tough time for Castilla of late. Casemiro impressed for Madrid's "second string" last season and was duly included in the first-team squad this season, while Alvaro Morata, Jese and Jesus have also progressed up through the Segunda Division side, which was left short on star quality at the start of the season and unable to cope: a horrendous start saw them rock-bottom and well adrift as Christmas approached and also cost manager Alberto Toril his job.

Manolo Diaz took charge in November, after a 6-0 defeat at Eibar, whereupon Castilla have gone from a side not knowing where their next win, and indeed goal, was going to come from to one which is one of of the best in the division on current form.

Diaz oversaw a 0-0 stalemate with Numancia in his first game in charge and Castilla have won four in a row since to move off the bottom of the table to three points above. It is a sign of just how badly they were in trouble previously.

Castilla is meant to give players a pathway to the Bernabeu but less than two months ago few, if any, of the current crop looked likely to make it. Diaz's influence has changed that and Ancelotti has rewarded him by taking some of his star men to Qatar. Madridistas may not see these players again this season, but the Italian has given them a taste of what it's like to train and play with the first-team and that must surely only mean good things for the players, and indeed Castilla.

Llorente, a defender, has been on the verge of a first-team appearance in recent weeks, largely owing to injuries and suspensions, and made the bench for Madrid's 3-2 victory over Valencia on December 22.

He has been one of the stand-out performers for Castilla despite their struggles in the first half of the season and certainly took his chance against the might of PSG, not looking out of place and tussling well against one of the best strikers in the business in Ibrahimovic to giveg Ancelotti food for thought if he needs to be called on.

Madrid changed their whole eleven at the break and Casado, who replaced Llorente, also did little wrong on his first-team debut. Edinson Cavani caused plenty of problems in the early exchanges but the defender grew into the game and fitted in well with Los Blancos' counter-attacking moves, too.

Midfielder Jaime is only on-loan at Castilla from Udinese but Madrid could make the deal a permanent one if it suits all parties. As with Casado, he looked slightly out of his depth when he was first introduced and lashed a good chance high and wide over the bar, but got better as the game progressed. He looked to have quick feet, pace, and a decent cross.

Jose Rodriguez, who started the match, seemed calm on the ball and also had a couple of good chances to get on the scoresheet, while goalkeeper Jesus kept a clean sheet despite coming under pressure from the PSG attack, albeit one that misfired throughout the match.

Add those names to the already established players such as Diego Lopez, Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Jese and Morata and Castilla is could be set to play a big role in producing Madrid's stars of the future.

There is still a long way to go for the Doha debutants, but Madrid's future looks bright. Remember the names.

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