Spain and Brazil have trodden a long, rocky road to reach the Final of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. Just hours before the grand finale, FIFA.com met up with coaches José Ufarte and Marcos Paquetá to chat about how their sides will approach the crucial game.
How are the squad feeling in the run-up to the big day?
José Ufarte: They're in very good spirits. Luckily, every last one of them is raring to go for this game. It's a huge opportunity for my lads, so it's vital we stay sharp.
Marcos Paquetá: The chance to play in a World Championship Final should be more than enough motivation for any footballer. We hope to keep our cool the way we did against Argentina, which was a very tight, tense encounter. My boys have managed to keep a lid on their nerves in these big ties so far and we hope to do the same in the Final.
How do you work on the players' nerves?
JU: I try to transmit as much calm as possible from my position as coach. I know it's a hugely important game, but I won't be talking about it until the last minute. We don't want to be thinking about the fact that it’s the Final too much. The more the lads treat it like any other match, the more we'll get out of them on the park.
MP:We talk a lot and work on the mental side. We show them messages from their families, photos, things like that. We take every opportunity to tell them how important this clash is to their careers. That's why they need to be as relaxed as possible.
What worries you most about the opposition?
JU: The team as a whole. Brazil is a country with a rich history of producing fantastic footballers. As far as I'm concerned, they're the best footballing nation on the planet, so it stands to reason that this is my main concern.
MP: They’re a great side, with some lavishly gifted players. They're a smart unit who know how to knock it around and are lightning on the break. We'll have to keep a close eye on Andrés Iniesta and Sergio García, who have been their two most outstanding players in the tournament so far.
What will your team have to do to take the title?
JU: It's absolutely essential we keep faith in our system and our philosophy of the game. We have to play to our strengths as far as we can if we want to get the better of a team like Brazil.
MP: Every final is won or lost on the attention each side pays to the details. Both semi-finals were settled by dead-ball situations, which shows we'll have to keep our eyes open so as not to get caught on the hop by the other team.
What has been your team's most difficult moment so far in the competition?
JU: When we had Vitolo sent off in the semi-final against Canada. We were down to ten men and we simply had to win. That was the trickiest moment, but luckily we managed to come through. I had every faith in my players, but I knew we would have a hard time of it because of the knock-on effect of so many matches on the lads' stamina.
MP: In the group stage, the third game of the group stage (Australia, 2-3 defeat), the players were under-performing, which is understandable. Some of them haven't had a holiday for three years, and have flown straight into the Emirates after competing all season in the Brazilian league. The players' heads went down, but we revived the squad with a video containing messages from their families. That's when our team spirit and work as a unit really came into their own. Luckily, we recovered in time.
When did you realise your team could make it all the way to the Final?
JU: During the game against Colombia, when I saw how the players were responding to a very tough outfit that were causing us some real headaches. My lads came together as a team and gave their all out there. That's when I realised we'd be in the Final.
MP: When my team showed their thirst for glory ahead of the tie with Argentina. These players had lost to the Argentines in the South American Youth Tournament and in the Pan-American Games, but we showed we had both the spirit and the football in our boots to overcome them.
Is it any coincidence that the same nations that made it to the semi-finals in the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003 also made it to the last four in this competition?
JU: I'd say it's the product of a few things. While I think there's an element of chance, it's also down to the hard work being carried out at youth level in these countries. It means that Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Colombia are doing a good job.
MP: No, not at all. It's the result of a job well done on the part of Colombia, Brazil and Argentina. And Spain have been doing the same in Europe, along with Portugal. That's where most of the talent comes from over there. It's important to bring on young players, but at the same time we have to focus on education as a priority goal. It's what I always try to do with my players. It helps them on the pitch too, they're more sure of themselves.
Does it mean anything special to be in a re-run of that Final?
JU: I don't think so. It'll be special for me, but on a personal level. I've played in Brazil, which is the country I grew up in too. Having said that, I desperately want to us to be champions. The fans deserve it and so do the players. And anyway, Brazil have already got three world youth titles to their name, and we could do with walking away with this one! My friends in Brazil would be happy if we end up champions. I'm dying for us to win.
MP: It's a different game altogether. It's a different level of competition. There, they were boys. Here, they're experienced professionals playing for first division sides. You can't compare the two, nor do I think it's a revenge match for us. They're two different sets of circumstances.
Do you think we'll see any of these players in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™
JU: If they continue to come on like they've come on here, some of them just might make it. This was a new team that has connected amazingly once they had a few games under their belt. We had just two practice matches before flying out to the UAE, with scarcely three days to get ourselves in some sort of shape. The lads have done marvellously well to understand what was expected of them here, proof of that being the performances they've put in game after game.
MP: Though most of these players are on professional terms with their clubs, as the situation stands I'd have to say no. There's a tremendous pool of players to choose from in Brazil. But between now and 2006, the senior coach will call upon the footballers that are performing well at the time, and there won't be that much thought for the future. Then it will be down to the pressures on the full Brazilian national side, who always have to win.