As their record of five European titles at U-18 and U-19 level suggests, Spain are a force to be reckoned with in major youth competitions. For all their continental success, however, La Roja have been crowned world champions on only one occasion, at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Nigeria 1999, when South Africa 2010 winners Iker Casillas, Xavi and Carlos Marchena were all on duty.
The current generation won the 2008 UEFA Under-17 European Championship and have since matured under the watchful eye of ex-coach Luis Milla, a former player with both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Determined to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 in style, Spain went into the final tournament of the 2009/10 UEFA European Under-19 Championship in France with their sights firmly set on collecting another title.
Their form in the group phase suggested they would do just that. Victories over Croatia, Portugal and Italy gave them top spot in their section and a place in the semi-finals against England. An impressive 3-1 victory took Milla’s young charges through to the final against hosts France, the team they had beaten to win the U-17 crown two years previously. Taking the lead in another classy display in the first half, the Spanish then lost momentum, and were outrun and out-thought as the persevering French came from behind to snatch the title from their grasp.
After the qualifiers, Julen Lopetegui, former national team goalkeeper, replaced Milla as U-20 coach while most of the current squad were fighting for a spot in the Olympics at the UEFA U-21 European Championship. They managed to reach that goal, winning the title in the process, and the coach found some fresh talent to include in the team ahead of Colombia 2011. “We want to reach glory in Colombia”, he said.
Lopetegui focused on Barcelona’s youth teams, where he’s got a couple of representatives in the form of defenders Marc Muniesa and Marc Bartra. He also counts on Sergio Canales, with the striker having made his mark at Racing Santander during the 2009/2010 season, before making his big move to Real Madrid last summer.