“This is football.” That was the sombre, but matter-of-fact, assessment that echoed from either sides of the Spanish touchline as they crashed out of the FIFA U-20 World Cup at the hands of Uruguay.
Both La Rojita midfielder Suso and his coach Julen Lopetegui cut dejected figures after the 1-0 quarter-final defeat at Bursa's Ataturk Stadium. With the innards of the arena littered with shell-shocked Spaniards after the surprise loss, the pair conceded that the competition would now have to be seen as point of growth, rather than one of eventual triumph.
The 19-year-old Liverpool starlet remained composed in the aftermath, putting a brave face on the outcome when speaking to FIFA.com, with an empty-handed journey home now awaiting his side. “I think we have to learn from every moment, from every point of the tournament,” he said. “I think this will obviously be the biggest one, and it will be a learning experience for all of us.”
While clearly exasperated and disappointed to be departing Turkey 2013 earlier than he had anticipated or hoped for, Lopetegui reflected believed the pain of the result would take his players forward in their development. “They are very young and this [tournament] has been a big step for them,” said the 1985 FIFA U-20 World Cup runner-up.
“They will learn from what they have been through here. It will help give them a greater appreciation of the game as you have to learn to win, and you have to learn to lose – this is football.”
Having coasted through the group stage at a canter, Spain's tournament began to wear away at the seams during the knockout stages. First, they went down to an early goal against Mexico, needing a deflected, 90th-minute Jese goal secure passage with a 2-1 win. Then their Turkey 2013 journey fully unravelled when Felipe Avenatti's header hit the back of the net in the 103rd minute. However, in Suso's eyes, they were unfortunate to be dealt a tough hand.
“We got nine points in the groups, but in the knockout stages we came up against the toughest teams we could have, I think, in Mexico and Uruguay,” he said. “This is football, and if you want to win a World Cup you have to beat the best teams. We tried to do that today, but luck just wasn't on our side.”
Spain dominated possession, just as they had against Mexico, but a well-organised Charruas side proved too formidable to find a way through. While admitting both sides had begun well, Suso felt La Rojita had done enough to deserve passage into the final four. “I think we played some good football, but in the first half both teams were playing really well,” he said.
“However, Uruguay were waiting for us to come at them and defended, which made it difficult for us to work through them in the first-half. In the second half though I think we were the better side; the only real chance they had from then on was from the corner where they scored.”
Having won European titles in charge of Spain's U-19 and U-21 sides in the last year, it was not to be a unique 12-month treble for Lopetegui. “We had our chances, and definitely enough to make it though this quarter-final,” he conceded. “For me, we had the better opportunities but once they scored we couldn't turn it around. I think we deserved to win, but it wasn't to be.”