Few who witnessed Spain’s opening match defeat at the hands of Argentina could have imagined that they would bounce back to reach the Final of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. But that is exactly what José Ufarte’s side have done. Courtesy of a squad that has grown in stature with every game, the Iberians have conceded just one goal since their disastrous start. FIFA.com met up with Melli, team captain and kingpin of the Spanish defence, to mull over his thoughts and dreams at this potentially historic moment in his fledgling career.
"The atmosphere in our camp is very relaxed. We know we’ve done really well to come this far,” begins the Real Betis man. “We’re in the final, which was one of our aims for the tournament. Now we need to go out and enjoy it because the team that expresses itself best on the day will win it.”
Melli, who chose his nickname in honour of his twin brother Mellizo who keeps goal for the Betis youth team, talks with the quiet calmness of a seasoned professional. When one considers that he is about to play in a final, his cool, collected demeanour is surprising. “I had never been captain before, then they went and offered me the opportunity just before this competition. But I’m not above the others, I just have a few extra responsibilities, the most important of which is to help the group overcome this final hurdle.”
"I haven’t given any thought to seeing pictures of myself brandishing the trophy after the final, but that would be amazing, I admit. But I don’t mind not appearing in any photos as long as we become champions!” asserts the lad who has represented the national team at every level, clinching the 2001 European U-16 title in England and the 2002 U-19 trophy in Norway in the process.
"We must play our natural game"If they are to achieve their goal, Melli and Spain will have to surmount a formidable obstacle. "Brazil always have great players, and this team is no exception. But we didn’t come this far to finish as runners-up,” insists the Andalusian defender defiantly. “We need to play our natural game, which has brought us this far.”
Interestingly enough, the prospect of facing Brazil on 19 December seems to be a source of some disappointment to the Betis defender. Not because the Samba Boys represent an insufficient challenge, but because they would have loved a chance to exact revenge for their one-and-only defeat so far.
“Yes, if truth be told, we would have liked a chance to beat Argentina and lay that ghost to rest, but that’s not the way it’s worked out. Now, we have to test ourselves against a great side, Brazil. We shall soon find out if luck’s on our side.” In order to get the better of the young Seleçao, Spain will rely heavily on the talent of Andrés Iniesta, an exceptional starlet who has made a huge contribution so far. “We have discovered recently that he’s the cornerstone of our team,” admits his captain. “Most teams would love to have a player of his calibre within their ranks. We will try to make the most of his attributes and do everything in our power to tip the balance our way.”