Spain's consistent excellence in UEFA youth competitions has also meant a number of young talents have come to international prominence for the first time. The likes of Raúl González, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres had all shone in years gone by and at the 2004 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, yet another title-winning campaign, it was the turn of Juanfran to take the spotlight.
The winger was not unknown, having impressed at the 2003 UEFA-CAF Meridian Cup and sat on the Real Madrid CF bench for UEFA Champions League games against FC Bayern München and AS Monaco FC, before the finals in Switzerland kicked off. But it was there, in a squad featuring Sergio Ramos and David Silva, he underlined his promise, proving a constant menace in his country's first game, a 3-0 dismantling of Germany, with his free-kick creating Spain's opening goal for Víctor Casadesús. The winger was in similarly inspired form in the second match against Turkey, breaking the deadlock in a 3-2 win that confirmed Spain's place in the semi-finals.
Juanfran was rested for his country's third and final Group B fixture but returned for the semi-final against Ukraine in Lausanne. He was withdrawn five minutes into the second period, however, with Spain leading 1-0, and watched from the sidelines as Armando Ufarte's side survived an almighty scare to finally defeat the Ukrainians 4-1 on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Juanfran was back at his effervescent best in the Nyon final against Turkey, but was unable to fashion a breakthrough and was replaced again with just over 20 minutes to go, although he was an enthusiastic participant in the celebrations following Borja Valero's last-gasp winner.
"The Spanish Football Federation invest a lot in our youth teams and it is largely thanks to them that we enjoy success," said Juanfran, who subsequently stepped up to U21 international level. "That success is very important for our clubs and our country. It's also crucial for the players, you don't get many chances like that." Thanks in no small part to Juanfran's contribution, Spain's 2004 crop seized their opportunity with both hands.
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