With the countdown to the Round of Sixteen clash against Paraguay well under way, the Spanish camp have had a surprise visitor to spur them on to victory. Iñaki Sáez, their coach at the qualifying tournament in Norway and now coach of the full Spanish national side, has flown in to Al Ain to be with his former charges at such a crucial time. FIFA.com talked to him about the side's prospects, his short-term goals and the importance of this kind of tournament for a footballer's development.
FIFA.com: What do you make of the first stage of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003?
Iñaki Sáez: I haven't seen any games other than Spain's because I've been tied up with the draws for the Euro 2004 and World Cup qualifiers. They did well in their first match against Argentina, even though they lost. And they went on to qualify by taking on two very different teams: Mali are a strong, hard-running outfit, but they'll always slip up sooner or later as the game draws on. Uzbekistan, first-timers in an event like this, showed they have some useful players up front. The moment of truth, though, starts now.
How have the lads taken your arrival?
They know me because we ran out champions together in the European Championship in Norway. At the same time, they know that, as senior coach, I'm keeping an eye on them and what they can do. It's important to see how the players react in an event like this. It's a shattering tournament where virtually all the games are knock-out ties. Here is where you get a thorough idea of the footballer in the making. Is the fact I'm here extra motivation for them? Of course it is. I'd be all fired-up if I were in their shoes!
What differences do you see in this side from the one you were in charge of in 2002?
There are a couple of differences. Losing players of the calibre of Fernando Torres, José Antonio Reyes, Ander Murillo and Jarque has forced us to put together a more compact side, one that doesn't rely on individual ability so much. That's why we brought in a few lads that are playing in the Spanish second division. We put together a side of competitive footballers. Now they just have to believe in themselves. That'll come with the results.
Do you have your eye on anyone in particular with a view to promoting them to the senior squad?
Not really. You have to bear in mind that these players are being watched for the U-21 side next year. Our first priority is to see if we're on the right track with this group with a view to the future.
Why do young players take so long to break into the first team at club level in Spain?
The outstanding players at this age are already in the reserve sides at FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia. These lads' positions in their clubs, however, are covered by some of the world's greatest players, who in many cases are foreign. That's our biggest problem.
The situation's looking up, though. People have begun to wake up to the importance of being able to call on players that have been brought up through the ranks. Some teams are not shelling out as much on transfers as they used to every season.
What do you have to say about the fact that some European countries do not put their best side out in this type of competition?
It's true, the prime example being England. But you have to appreciate that it's not easy to get a player that has already ran out with the senior side to come back to this level. It can mess with a footballer's motivation. That's why you have to look on the bright side: it's better to take someone else who can learn more and make better use of the experience in the process.