Today Spain begin the defence of their UEFA European Under-17 Championship title in Tenerife – and for the first time in two decades Juan Santisteban will not be in charge.
A member of the Real Madrid CF side that dominated the early years of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in the late 1950s, Santisteban retired this summer after leading Spain to their sixth title at this level under his command. His long-time colleague Ginés Meléndez has stepped up to the helm, having previously led the U19 squad to similar European success, and makes no bones about the importance of Santisteban's absence, "We'll miss him," Meléndez told uefa.com. "We worked together for eight years and it will be difficult with him not around."
However, the aim now is to reach next May's finals in Germany; Santisteban only ever missed out on qualification once. With his side set to face Estonia, Armenia and England – the nation they beat in the 2007 final – in qualifying round Group 13, Meléndez has confidence in this season's squad. "They are extremely enthusiastic and full of hope, above all because it's something new for them," he said. "They want to get going as soon as possible and I'm sure that they'll play well, as the players have always done in the past at this level."
Spain will have the luxury of experience on their side in the shape of FC Barcelona striker Carmona, who started last season's stunning 4-0 final defeat of France in Turkey. For the rest, it is their first taste of competitive football. "We got together for three days last week and also had a tournament in Germany which included the host country, Italy and the Netherlands," Meléndez said. "We also usually try to meet up throughout the year."
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