Quereda: "We'll fight all the way in Thailand"
Ignacio Quereda is the very picture of composure as he welcomes FIFA.com to his office at the Royal Spanish Football Association. His measured and deliberate movements are perfectly in keeping with the soft-spoken tone he uses in his carefully considered answers.
And whether chatting about the progress of his U-19 side in the wake of their first major title in Finland, or pondering their fast approaching date with destiny in Thailand in November, Quereda employs the same unhurried, yet seamless, approach that he has used in managing the women's national teams for the last 16 years.
After having got involved in the women's game almost by chance, Quereda has proved himself to be deeply committed to its development ever since. On taking the reins in 1988, he was given the considerable task of establishing women's football in Spain. A measure of the progress that has been made is the fact that today the European U-19 Championship trophy sits proudly in the Association's trophy cabinet. His first title perhaps, but by no means his first success.
Have things changed much over the past 16 years?
Things have changed for the better, both in terms of quality and quantity. When I arrived there were only 1,200 registered players in Spain. Today, there are around 11,000, which represents a huge increase. There has also been an influx of new and more technically proficient people into the game. That has had a positive effect on the overall standards and quality. It would be fair to say that the players have improved considerably both in terms of fitness and technique.
What is the feeling among the coaching staff and players having won this year's European U-19 Championship?
Well, it is a mixture of delight and satisfaction. We are extremely grateful for all the work being done by the clubs and federation. As for the players, obviously we are very pleased with the high quality performances they have been producing. Some of them still can't believe it and haven't realized just what it means for women's football here. Personally, I believe it will be a turning point for the game.
What is needed now to build on what you have achieved?
We have to accept the reality of the situation. We need more support and less indifference from the media and the rest of society. But more than anything, I believe the league clubs need to incorporate women's teams. I think if we had that kind of validation, then you would see the women's game take root and really flourish in Spain.
Winning the European title caused a huge stir in the media. When we arrived back in Spain, there were camera crews and reporters from the national media waiting for the team at the airport. For the girls, it was a huge surprise and immensely satisfying to have their achievements recognised. All of us were wondering whether things would begin to change, whether we get more support and coverage, and whether it would lead to the acceptance of women in the game?
You'll soon be packing your bags for Thailand. What does the team hope to achieve there?
We're highly motivated and see it as a whole new experience and an opportunity to keep learning. What we want to do, principally, is to consolidate what we have built both in terms of sporting performance and individual development. After all, a few years from now, these players will make up the core of the senior team. We haven't set ourselves a specific goal in terms of how far we'll go, but, rest assured, we will fight all the way.
Spain have been drawn in Group B along with Russia, Korea Republic and the USA. What can you tell us about your rivals?
The USA and Korean sides are physically strong as well as technically adroit. Korea won the Asian Championship and beat China - themselves a world class side. We're anticipating some very difficult games against them and have been carefully studying videos of their matches to familiarize ourselves with their style of play. We can't discount Russia either. We watched them at the European Championship as we knew they might be a future opponent. They certainly won't be an easy proposition.
What are Spain's strengths and weaknesses?
The team's biggest strength is, without a doubt, the way they bond as a group. By that I mean the camaraderie, the solidarity and the team spirit. Then there's their mindset. Mentally, they're very strong. They have this unshakeable faith in each other and tremendous conviction. As for defects, well, there are a few...(smiles) but we like to keep them to ourselves. Slowly, but surely though, we 're trying to iron them out.
Beating Germany in the European Championship final took everyone by surprise, especially as you had lost to them 7-0 in the group phase. What was the key to that victory?
There were several factors really. In the first game, we had already achieved our principle objective, which was a place in the World Championships. As we weren't too worried whether we finished first or second in the group, we opted to rest the bulk of the first team (for the German match). We fielded seven new players who were making their championship debut, and they dropped their guard a little.
In the final, though, we wanted to prove that the first game hadn't been a true reflection of the difference between the sides. We prepared for that game with fierce determination and meticulously studied Silvia Neid's team. The players were convinced that they could do it and had high hopes. On the day, the girls were tactically disciplined and gave their all. For me, it was their temperament on the field that won them that match. I also think that maybe Germany took us too lightly as they never really managed to get into the game.