Spain are historically one of Europe's finest sides at U-17 level, boasting no fewer than eight European titles (1986, 1988, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008) - a continental record. They have also been a force at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, having finished runners-up at Italy 1991, Finland 2003 and Korea 2007 as well as taking third at Egypt 1997, all under the watchful eye of Juan Santiesteban, who stepped down after two decades at the helm following victory at the UEFA Under-17 European Championship Turkey 2008.
On the back of successive victories in the U-17 European Championship, Spain were thwarted in their attempts to make it three in a row at the 2009 edition in Germany in May. Despite not losing a game, La Roja missed out on a semi-final berth largely thanks to the innumerable goalscoring opportunities spurned during goalless draws against Italy, France and Switzerland. It was something of a disappointment for head coach Gines Melendez, formerly Santiesteban's assistant and coach of Spain's U-20s at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, and goalscoring will be an area he will be keen to remedy at Nigeria 2009.
Despite the bitter taste left by the Under-17 EURO, Melendez's charges remain among the favourites for October/November's elite competition on African soil and would dearly love to go one better than their penalty shoot-out defeat in the final of Korea 2007. And until they find the answer to their problems in front of goal, La Roja's solidity at the back, typified by defensive stalwart Marc Muniesa, should stand them in good stead. "We wanted to impose our philosophy of keeping hold of the ball. The only thing that we were missing was a goal but we're still on a 20-match unbeaten run. The most important thing is nurturing players for the senior national team," said coach Melendez after the EURO.
Facts and figures
Dani (1991), Mista (1995), Iker Casillas (1997), Xavi (1997), Pepe Reina (1999), Andres Iniesta (2001), Fernando Torres (2001), David Silva (2003), Cesc Fabregas (2003), Bojan (2007).
Edgar Badia (goalkeeper), Marc Muniesa (defender), Jorge Resurreccion ‘Koke' (captain), Borja Gonzalez (forward) Pablo Sarabia (forward).
The numbers game
0 - The number of goals Spain conceded at this year's Under-17 EURO when finishing third in Group A, which was enough to seal a ticket for Nigeria 2009.