Former Spanish international Julen Lopetegui is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ginés Meléndez, who led La Rojita to a fifth UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in 2011. Having taken Spain into last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup quarter-finals, the former Real Madrid CF, CD Logroñes, FC Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano de Madrid goalkeeper is relishing the task in Estonia.
UEFA.com: What can you tell us about this latest generation?
Julen Lopetegui: We have a mixture. There are players [born in] 1993, a lot from '94 and some from '95. We are going with the intention of pushing some players forward a generation while we also believe the guys we have can overcome the difficulties that this tournament will present and who have the best possible chances of progressing right to the top.
UEFA.com: How is the atmosphere within the group?
Lopetegui: There is a lot of hope and expectation that they can do well. They are definitely eager to get started and to compete on a European level. Along with doing well in this tournament they want to qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Turkey [in 2013]. They are aware it will be tough in Estonia with so many great teams also involved.
UEFA.com: How well do you know your Group A rivals Greece, Portugal and hosts Estonia?
Lopetegui: We know that Greece are possibly one of the most balanced and complete sides competing. They didn't concede a single goal in the elite round. They have some players playing in the top division in their country. Portugal also managed to qualify in style while Estonia, as the home team, will have a big atmosphere on their side. Our job now is to overcome all of them.
UEFA.com: You finished above Armenia, Belgium and Italy in a difficult elite round. How do you look back on that?
Lopetegui: It was a very strong group. Italy were the hosts and were excellently organised while Belgium on an individual level were very good. Armenia took a huge step forward in terms of these European competitions and displayed their physical strength against us. We won all three games but by very slender margins. We had difficulties in every game.
UEFA.com: Do your players feel extra pressure because of the successes of Spanish football in the past?
Lopetegui: I would say it is more keenness on their part than pressure. They want to achieve the goals set out in front of them. It is a case of everyone wanting to beat Spain these days but I don't see that as pressure or responsibility; it is more an extra motivation.
UEFA.com: What have you learned so far from your time with the team?
Lopetegui: A coach never stops learning. Every competition, every training session is a lesson. You are always looking to grow and to understand more. You always work towards trying to get the very best out of your players. You want the guys to arrive at the top with clear concepts of how to do things in defence and attack.
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