The atmosphere in the Spanish camp at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 is indicative of the team's fine performance so far. La Roja touched down in Kano ten days ago, unsure of what to expect from the tournament after their stuttering showing at the European Championships.
However, any initial anxiety began to fade once the team had settled into their new home in Kano, and their first matches at the perpetually sold-out Sani Abacha Stadium were underway. After coming back to win from a goal down with ten men against USA, Spain went on to produce some of their best football against UAE, as coach Gines Melendez recognised after the game: "For 35 to 40 minutes, we played beautiful football, which is rare to see in such young players. I'm really happy with them."
"We're really on a high. We want to achieve big things, and we're on the right track. Our comeback against the USA, where at first everything seemed to go wrong, but where in the end we ran out winners, gave us a lot of confidence in our ability. We have no doubts about how far we can go in this tournament." These were the words of Pablo Sarabia, one of Spain's star players in their first two games with an assist and a goal, in an interview with FIFA.com.
"I'm happy with my own performance as well as that of the team, because we're working well together and doing what is expected of us. We've already booked our place in the last 16, we'll be playing our last group match against Malawi, and we want to go as far as possible," continued the La Roja midfielder.
More than team-mates
Sarabia's link-up play with Borja Gonzalez has formed one of the most potent components of the Spanish attack, with Borja already having scored twice and provided an assist for his team-mate. Despite this, at club level the two are long-standing rivals. "I get on really well with Pablo. We've come up against each other many times, as he plays for Real Madrid and I'm at Atletico. But we've played together as well, with the regional side, and now with the national team. We're more than just team-mates, we're great friends," said the Spain No9 with a grin. "We've been playing together for practically six years, so since we were very young," Sarabia chipped in.
This lethal pairing are now joined by Isco and Adria Carmona, both of whom scored stunning goals against UAE. Carmona, who came on as a substitute for Iker Muniain, put the win beyond doubt from a free-kick which took the UAE goalkeeper by surprise. "I'm happy with my goal, and to be playing in this tournament. Playing in an U-17 World Cup is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we want to get as much out of it as we can," said the home-grown Barcelona player.
His team-mate Isco had opened the scoring against UAE with a superb, mazy run, capped by an emphatic finish. "I'm happy with my own performance as I played well, but more importantly, it was a great team display. Since our first match against the USA, where we had to dig very deep to win, we've got a lot more confidence in our chances at this tournament," said Isco, who also provided an assist in the game. A native of Malaga, he currently plays his club football with the Valencia reserve team. "We feel more at home in Kano every day. At first, the heat made things hard for us, but now we're completely used to it," he said. "Next up are Malawi, and after that we'll be focusing on the last 16," he concluded, visibly proud of his performance and that of his La Roja team-mates.