Spain are the most successful nation in the history of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship but last season, aiming for a third straight title, they departed the finals in the group stage after a unique record of three 0-0 draws. However, their qualifying record is impeccable and having only failed to reach the finals once since the 1988 U16 Championship, they are back again and preparing for a tough test in Group A against France, Portugal and Switzerland. UEFA.com spoke to coach Ginés Meléndez about their chances.
UEFA.com: What conclusions did you draw from the qualifying rounds?
Ginés Meléndez: In the qualifying round we looked pretty good but despite dominating our games we had problems in the elite round and we were lucky to get through. We hope now that we're there we have a bit more luck than last time out.
UEFA.com: Will last year's disappointment have an effect on the team this this year?
Meléndez: We left that tournament a little bit sad because although the team played phenomenally we couldn't score goals. Having said that, the same team finished third in the last FIFA U-17 World Cup and as top goalscorers. Every generation is different and we're going to fight again this time so let's see what happens.
UEFA.com: The group you are in is a tough one with France, Portugal and Switzerland all present. What do you know of your rivals?
Meléndez: We know that France are very strong and with a lot of pace while Switzerland represent a lot of danger. We know Portugal very well; we've played against them three times recently. Group A is very balanced and interesting. All three of our opponents have good teams and it'll be a battle to qualify.
UEFA.com: How will you prepare the team in the build-up to the tournament?
The preparation will be difficult because the guys have exams and we also have the Spanish championship. The players study two hours per day and we make sure they never forget that, as it's the most important thing. As the tournament coincides with the national championship we are hoping we don't suffer any injuries.
UEFA.com: What will be the base of the team you are taking to the championships? Can you pick out one or two players to tell us about?
Meléndez: The squad will largely contain the players who competed in the eite round but there will be one or two changes. It's hard to single out players at this level but there are some with a very high level like [Athletic Club defender] Jonás Ramalho, [Sevilla FC midfielder] José Gómez Campaña, [Valencia CF forward] Francisco Alcácer and [FC Barcelona midfielder] Rafael Alcántara.
UEFA.com: The tournament will take place in Liechtenstein. What do you think about UEFA's decision to opt for these geographically smaller countries to host youth tournaments?
Meléndez: It's excellent that they choose these countries because the people living in the smaller countries also have the right to enjoy these types of events. When I went there I found a beautiful country with friendly people and I hope we can have some luck when we next visit.
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