Last season's UEFA European Under-17 Championship runners-up Spain began their bid to go one better in good form, topping qualifying round Group 13 in Benidorm ahead of Russia.
Spain's elite round place was assured going into the final day and they ended with a perfect record after beating a defensive Russia team 2-1. Finland defeated Moldova 2-0 to join Russia on four points but were pipped to second on goal difference.
Ginés Meléndez's side showed a high level of technical skill against Russia, who had Serder Serderov ready to lead swift counterattacks. Spain's pressure told on 23 minutes through Saúl Ñiguez, one of three survivors from last season's squad along with highly-rated winger Gerard and goalkeeper Alfonso Herrero, who started the first two matches. Serderov equalised on the half hour but three minutes later Raúl De Tomas set up Fernando Quesada for what proved the winner.
Meléndez told UEFA.com: "Even though it was the first time the boys had got together for a tournament, we played some good matches and really evolved as a team."
Captain Ñiguez, whose brother Aaron played in the 2006 U17 finals before helping Spain win the 2007 U19 title, added: "We started the tournament strongly with the 4-1 win against Moldova and also had a very good first half against Finland with some good technical play and a 3-0 result. The match against Finland was quite difficult, especially during the second half with some quick play in midfield."
While Spain were winning their games, Russia drew their opener 1-1 with Finland before defeating Moldova 5-1, Serderov scoring once in the first game and a hat-trick in the second. It was scoreless between Finland and Moldova at the break and although Jaako Hietikko and Matias Ojala struck in an intense second half, their team ended four goals shy of Russia.
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