Spain’s second trophy of the summer and with the potential of one more to come.
If it’s one thing that the country can be proud of these days as it trudges through various financial swamps, it’s the footballers. With the seniors triumphing in Poland and Ukraine, last night stepped up the U-19’s in Estonia.
A 1-0 victory over Greece was enough in the end, hardly an emphatic score line but a thoroughly deserved one. Weary limbs from the extra-time and penalties battle with France managed to push hard one more time and it was the familiar combination of Jesé and Gerard Deulofeu who conjured up the goal – the Real Madrid man slipping the ball neatly into the net.
Look closely at the tournament and you’ll see the clear fundamentals of the Spanish system. After all, U-19 is an important level for the coaches as it provides the first genuine competitive step that U-16 competition misses out on. The progression and education of a player becomes all the more clear at this stage, where it’s more appropriate to assess before the significant step up to U-20 and U-21 action. Isco Alarcón is a fine example of this, after he helped the U-19 group qualify last year he took flight to the U-21 level in which he has made a comfortable transition.
This is not just about individuals however and we’ve seen the makeup of the senior squad strategy glistening amongst the U-19’s. The aggression from full-backs, dominance of possession and interchanging of the frontline were all clear – three facets all present during the senior Euro victory. Also too, was the false 9 system. It even appears the U-23 squad appearing in London at the Olympics will harness similar with Juan Mata, Iker Muniain and Adrián all lining up alongside each other. Paco Alcácer was there as an alternative and his impact displays eventually earned him a start, while Rodrigo could provide similar in London.
Marca’s cover declared the U-19 group wonders and rightly so. This squad deserves attention for its achievement, and especially so given that it was the youngest (17.5 years old) group in the tournament. Just a few examples are Grimaldo who is 16, Deulofeu 18 and the gifted Torres 17. For some it showed at times with naive defending – the Portugal and France games were rollercoasters – and a physical pummelling they received from the French, but in the end the youthful exuberance and determined character shone through most.
Here were a few of the key faces in Estonia:
Not only do I want see proof of his D.O.B but also I’d like to see drug test results because this kid never stopped. The youngest player at the tournament and perhaps the most vibrant. What he gives up in years he made up for in gallops down the touchline and aggressive tackling. Harnessing such excellent speed and desire he was able to support not only the attack but manage to get back in position when defending. He was able to deliver several excellent crosses, offer himself in combination play and also defend with great assertiveness. Barça now have two full-backs plucked from Valencia who will run rings around you.
My personal MVP of the tournament – no doubt. No goals, and no assists but his team contribution was phenomenal. Atlético Madrid’s young midfielder is astonishingly gifted and as long as he stays on the correct career path there is no reason Torres can go on to surpass his namesake. Composed and intelligent he makes the wonderful look effortless. His vision and reading of the game is fantastic to watch, harnessing an ability to oversee its development and providing the most suitable approach to provide decisive. Spain’s midfield area is overstocked with talent, but it has room for a player like Torres. Truly gifted.
It was interesting to see Campaña come into this tournament, as he’d arrived off the back of a disappointing season featuring injuries and off the field trouble. It was meant to be his year of exposure at Sevilla but it never worked out; he made up for lost time in Estonia however and was a leader in midfield guiding the team through its most difficult points. His subtle passing and holding together of Spanish moves was key.
Credit must go to the efforts of the Liverpool man because he featured in various positions from a deep midfielder to playing the ‘False 9’. He managed to find a home roaming between midfield and attack though, linking play together much to the pleasure of Spain’s wide players. He managed to mix up his passing to go both long and short, providing versatility in the midfield department that made sure Spain never became predictable. Suso is not just a passer of the ball though; he moved with it well and showed fine technique and skill to glide away from players when required. Mr Rodgers, do take note.
Gerard Deulofeu and Jesé:
I put these two together because before the tournament it was clear these two would be the key factor in Spain’s attack. It proved true, as both delivered strong tournaments and never hid at any point. Deulofeu was at times Spain’s main outlet with his direct running and close control, although he can frustrate and divide opinion he provided definition in the final third Spain needed. Much like Andrés Iniesta he is able to draw in opponents (in fact in one game Deulofeu had three opponents on him) and fool them with the aforementioned attributes. He did so often, and was rewarded with 3 assists and 2 goals – his acknowledgement of teamwork will need to improve but signs are there he’s learning. Jesé meanwhile finished MVP of the tournament by UEFA, and took the golden boot with 5 goals – some of them taken with an extraordinary calm. He’s physically superb in his position, offering genuine power to punish defences. He can not only sweep past you with a burst of pace but also turn you inside out which makes him difficult to contain. His approach play and awareness needs work but like Deulofeu he’s young and with time to improve – both have a pivotal season ahead of them in Segunda.
It’s impossible to start talking about Alcácer without mentioning impact and sacrifice. Although he was pushed into the background as a substitute in the wake of Lopetegui’s system tinkering, Alcácer never disappointed when called upon. He provided the face of a traditional 9 working with his back to goal and dropping off to maintain Spain’s patterns in attack, while when a chance came his way he was clinical. His decisiveness in front of goal propelled Spain at the toughest of times when Deulofeu and Jesé were shut out, as he caused chaos inside the penalty area with his abilities. Strong and smart, he needs more games at a competitive level to really blossom.
Of the eleven U-19 European Championships, Spain have now taken six and won the last two editions. Dominance not just in passing but outright competition.