Merida has faith in Spain

Back in June this year, silky Spanish midfielder Fran Merida sat down with and pondered his side's chances at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. "Spain are going to Korea to win. That said, we do respect our rivals and if they've got this far, it's for a reason," came the verdict, and with the tournament now in full swing, the boys in red are well on the way to fulfilling his words.

The Iberians picked up seven points from their Group C encounters against a trio of sides with widely differing styles, proving themselves equal to the challenges posed by Honduras, Syria and Argentina to finish top of the pool.

And two-and-a-half months on from that pre-tournament interview, the affable Merida accepted another invitation to chat with us at Spain's base in Ulsan, the venue for their last-16 clash with Korea DPR. True to form, the ever-punctual Arsenal midfielder arrived bang on time for our meeting in one of the hotel's restaurants. Fran, how do you think Spain have performed so far?
Fran Merida
: I think we've done pretty well. Finishing top of the group was important, and the fact we're unbeaten gives the team confidence. We're satisfied so far, but I feel there's always room for improvement.

Can you give us a specific example?
We need to sharpen up a little up front and at the back, and any improvements we make will be important, because if you make a mistake at this stage, then you're out. You can afford a draw in the group phase because you've got two other games to make up for it. But if you have a bad half hour in the knockout rounds and let in a couple of goals, then it's all over. We need to be switched on from the kick-off right through to the final whistle.

What do you make of upcoming opponents Korea DPR?
Everyone is here to win, and that includes both them and us. Korea DPR might look like one of the weaker teams around but, like I said before, if they've got this far, it must be for a reason. We're not scared of anyone, but we know it won't be an easy game at all.

Have you managed to see any of their earlier games?
Yes, I saw them against England and they seem to be a hardworking side who fight for every ball. They are quick and they manage to keep their intensity up pretty much all the time. They may well sit back so they can pressure us in their half. We just need to stick to our game. That's what got us here after all.

You are the only member of the squad who plays outside Spain. Do you feel you have to perform at a higher standard than your team-mates because of that?
No, not at all. We all have to perform here, regardless of whether you play for Arsenal, Barcelona or Real Madrid. We are representing Spain here, not our clubs, and we all have to give it everything we've got.

With so many good players, the pressure also seems to be equally shared.
That's right. Bojan scores goals and gives us confidence, for example, Camacho gives us balance, De Gea security. And I could carry on with the rest of the team. But what helped us win the European Championship wasn't the fact that we just played for one or two players but for everyone, for the whole team. The spirit in the side was excellent and that was vital.

What does it mean to be taking part in a FIFA World Cup?
It's simply amazing to represent your country, and that's something my team-mates and I are very conscious of. You have to got out and give it your all, but you also have to enjoy it at the same time. We're only 17 and we need to soak it all up while we've got the chance. Who knows? It might be our only ever World Cup.

One last question. Can Spain win the title?
The most important thing is to concentrate on your next opponent and take it step by step. Of course we'd love to win it. That would be fantastic and we're confident we can. We've got to beat Korea first, though. That's our most important game right now.