Spain claimed the UEFA European U-19 Championship title for
the third time in the last five years, adding the 2006 crown to
those of 2002 and 2004. However, the team coached by Gines Melendez
was pushed to the limit in the final in Poznan (Poland) by a dogged
Scotland side before eventually running out 2-1 victors.
The game was certainly in stark contrast to when the finalists had met in the group stage, when the Spaniards chalked up a comfortable 4-0 victory. As in that first match, Alberto Bueno was the first name on the scoresheet, although the striker had to wait until the 51st minute to break the deadlock.
Prior to that point, the robust Scots had contained their more skilful opponents with a combination of spirit, disciplined defending and tireless running. In the end, it required a sublime piece of individual skill from Bueno to hand his side the lead, the Real Madrid youngster combining brilliantly with Mario Suárez and conjuring up a perfect lob from 18 metres after spotting Andrew McNeill a shade too far off his line.
The Spaniards gained in confidence thereafter and doubled their advantage 20 minutes later when Bueno provided further evidence of his predatory instincts with a 71st-minute tap-in. However, just when the Spaniards felt they were home and dry, the gallant underdogs drew on their commendable reserves of morale and upped the tempo for the last quarter of an hour.
Celtic duo Michael McGlinchey and Simon Ferry both declined inviting opportunities before Graham Dorrans headed home on 87 minutes to set up a rousing finale. In fact, the same player came within inches of a dramatic stoppage time equaliser, but the Spaniards ultimately held on for victory.
Coach Melendez was full of praise for the Scots afterwards, saying: "I'd like to congratulate Scotland warmly, as they made us work very, very hard indeed."
Scottish coach Tommy Wilson, meanwhile, expressed pride in his players' efforts. "They've given a fabulous performance, so it feels like a win," he said. "They've made us all proud; their country, their clubs and their families. We've exceeded expectations here. Spain were the strongest team we've faced in the last two years."
First fruits of Austrian youth policy
Scotland, however, were not the only surprise package at the tournament. Austria suprised everyone by finishing in the last four, following group stage victories over hosts Poland (1-0) and Belgium (4-1) and a defeat to the Czech Republic (3-1). It was only at the semi-finals, and with danger man Erwin Hoffer suspended, that the Austrians fell to a heavy 5-0 defeat against the impressive Spanish.
"Overall we can be thoroughly proud of what we've achieved," said the Austrian coach, Paul Gludovatz. "We've hit our targets, which were to make the semi-final in Poland and qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2007. Obviously a five-goal defeat hurts a lot, but we desperately wanted to score in the second half and exit the tournament with our heads held high."
The Czechs were knocked out of the European event by the Scots at the semi-final stage, the Eastern Europeans left to rue a string of missed chances in a 1-0 defeat. "You never want to lose by the only goal of the game, but we failed to take our chances to equalise," summarised coach Miroslav Soukup. "This tournament was still a good learning experience for the players and coaches."
Poland and Portugal each finished third in their respective groups, enough to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Polish coach Michael Globisz said: "Obviously we're disappointed we were knocked out at the group stage, but qualifying for the World Cup is a nice consolation." Similar sentiments were expressed by Portugal supremo Carlos Dinis, who added: "Overall I'm satisfied with my players, and we're looking forward to the World Cup."
Bitter exit for Turkey
Downcast Turkey were left with a bitter pill to swallow after scoring nine goals in three group matches yet still finishing fourth in their group and missing out on a trip to Canada thanks to a string of unforced defensive errors.
"We played good football in all three matches, but we had very poor phases too, when we made too many individual errors," was the verdict of their coach, Cem Pamiroglu. "I still believe and trust this team, even if we failed to seize the opportunity presented by this tournament."
Overview - UEFA European U-19 Championship
Belgium - Czech Republic 4-2 (H-T: 3-1)
Poland - Austria 0-1 (H-T: 0-0)
Austria - Czech Republic 1-3 (H-T: 0-2)
Poland - Belgium 4-1 (H-T: 2-0)
Czech Republic - Poland 2-0 (H-T: 1-0)
Austria - Belgium 4-1 (H-T: 1-0)
Spain - Turkey 5-3 (H-T: 3-1)
Scotland - Portugal 2-2 (H-T: 2-0)
Scotland - Spain 0-4 (H-T: 0-2)
Portugal - Turkey 4-4 (H-T: 2-1)
Portugal - Spain 1-1 (H-T: 1-0)
Turkey - Scotland 2.3 (H-T: 0-1)
Spain - Austria 5-0 (H-T: 2-0)
Czech Republic - Scotland 0-1 (H-T: 0-0)
Scotland - Spain 1-2 (H-T: 0-0)
Qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007:
Spain, Scotland, Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Portugal