They are two of the most experienced youth team coaches around. Between them Spain’s Juan Santisteban and Argentina’s Hugo Tocalli share more than 20 years of FIFA U-17 finals knowledge spanning five competitions. FIFA.com caught up with them before they again go head-to-head in the second semi-final clash at the Töölö stadium, Helsinki on Wednesday.
FIFA.com: What is the atmosphere like in the camp after qualifying for the semi-finals?
JS: Spirits are very high after beating Portugal. Throughout the tournament, there has been an excellent atmosphere in the camp. We have been reduced to ten men in two games but have come back and worked hard for one another. I think the late equaliser against Sierra Leone was fundamental in that.
HT: The mood is very good. We always try to speak to the players to see if they have any particular concerns, but fortunately this lot are a happy group. They know that they have two difficult games coming up but they are also aware they have achieved a lot already in getting past the first stage and quarter-finals and are now among the top four teams in the world. I don’t like my teams to be overconfident or fear their opponents.
How do you see the game going?
JS: It’s going to be very difficult. Argentina and Brazil are the favourites for the competition. At this age it is so difficult to predict how the next game is going to go. There is such a short space between matches so fitness and strength comes into play. And because the boys are not hardened professionals, they naturally have their ups and downs – one game they play brilliantly, the next not quite so well. So we just have to hope they are in the right frame of mind against Argentina on Wednesday.
HT: I don’t share the view of the Spanish coach that Argentina start favourites for the game. My view is that all the four teams in the semi-finals are at a similar level. It will be tough. This is my fourth U-17 championship. Spain play collectively. They don’t have a single star like Torres (Fernando) in Trinidad & Tobago two years ago. They play as a team and have good players like 7 (Sisi) and 11 (Jurado).
We haven’t conceded any goals yet in the tournament but Spain just scored five goals so we have no doubts it is going to be a tough match. But I agree, at U-17 level you have wait to see how they get up in the morning. Unlike players at U-20 level who are more developed, they can get up feeling down. I don’t think there is one special area where we can beat Spain, so it very much depends on what happened that day. If we don’t take our chances, then Spain could easily beat us.
Do the teams of your adversary (Tocalli/Santisteban) have their own individual way of playing?
JS: They are always technically strong and contain fine individual players possessing tremendous skills. I think the thing that stands out is that Tocalli’s teams always seem to have time on the ball, work very hard for each other and have an excellent temperament.
HT: Yes, I think they do. He normally plays with two banks of four. Numbers 11 (Jurado) and 17 (Cesc) are more attackers than midfielders. The players change with each year, but I think the system remains the same.
Argentina effectively knocked Spain out of the previous tournament in Trinidad & Tobago 2001 with a 4-2 win in the final group game. What are your recollections of the game?
JS: I felt we were very unlucky in that match. We were winning 2-1, playing our best game of the finals and then had a man sent off very harshly. But this semi-final is a completely different game with completely different players.
HT: They were winning 2-1, Torres had a great chance to score the third goal but he didn’t make it. We made some changes and scored some fantastic goals in the second half to win 4-2. If they’d scored that third, it would have made it difficult for us.
What are the differences between this U-17 side and the one two years ago?
JS: In this one the team functions as a whole. There are no individuals who think they are more skilful or better than the others. Having such a thought is so debilitating for a team at this level because it leads to jealousy and bitterness. Thank God this team does not have such players.
They have got over the most difficult hurdle. We only began our preparation on 23 July so we really had very little time to get prepared for the finals, whereas the South American season had been going on for six months. This team never gives up and gives their all and for this alone, I truly admire them.
HT: This team is more dynamic in attack. It is able to change the speed and rhythm of a game at an instant. I believe it is more secure in defence too. However, the side two years ago had the presence in attack of Tevez (Carlos), who was capable of producing something from nothing