Leeds United pair make international debuts as goalkeeper rewarded after horror injury comeback

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Leeds United duo Mateo Joseph and Dani van den Heuvel made their Under-21 international debuts for Spain and the Netherlands, respectively, on Thursday evening.

The United pair reached their respective milestones during March's international break, despite it appearing, for vastly different reasons, that neither would represent the countries of their birth not so long ago.

Joseph recently switched allegiances from England, for whom he was also eligible internationally, in order to turn out for the Spanish national team one step below the senior side, while goalkeeper Van den Heuvel's career was in jeopardy before it had even begun two summers ago after a car crash and subsequent lengthy injury lay-off.

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The Spanish forward came off the bench for the entire second half during Spain's 2-0 friendly defeat to Slovakia U21, while Van den Heuvel played the opening 45 minutes as Norway U21 beat the Dutch by two goals to one.

Van den Heuvel was badly injured during a car accident whilst on international duty in 2022 but has since worked his way into the Under-21 setup. Recounting the incident, the stopper said: "I was unconscious. After the impact, I can’t remember anything. I woke up in the car. The car was smoking, beeping. There was glass everywhere. I remember my jaw was really painful, my neck just felt really stiff. It was scary."

The 20-year-old, who was just 18 at the time of the incident, had suffered a broken neck and fractured jaw in the accident and admitted he feared for his life.

"Did I worry for my life? Yes, definitely. That quick moment when everything goes dark, when I think back about it, it is just like an empty space. It was a terrifying experience."

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Fortunately, Van den Heuvel has been back on the pitch for an extended period, representing Leeds' Under-21 side as well as the Dutch national team now, at the same age group. He has posted a clean bill of health for the most part since his comeback and been named on the bench under Leeds boss Daniel Farke on a couple of occasions.

Joseph, meanwhile, has made a first-team breakthrough at Elland Road this season, coming off the bench several times whilst grabbing a brace from the start in Leeds' narrow FA Cup defeat by Chelsea earlier this year. His declaration for the country of his birth also means he will no longer be able to represent England at youth or senior international level again, having previously turned out for the Young Lions at last year's Under-20 World Cup.

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