As if Spanish football was not dominant enough, they begin their UEFA European Under-19 Championship title defence with Julen Lopetegui hoping his players can improve, an assertion that drew gasps from his Group A coaching rivals from hosts Estonia, Greece and Portugal.
Spain begin against Greece in Haapsalu on Tuesday, while Estonia, in their first UEFA final tournament at any level, are up against Portugal. While Lopetegui is crossing his fingers that his young charges can emulate the success of their senior counterparts at UEFA EURO 2012, Estonia's Arno Pijpers summed up the feeling of the rest when joking, "The last thing any of us need is for them to improve."
A former Spain goalkeeper, Lopetegui was with his U19 squad – including several of the party that triumphed in Romania last summer – when they celebrated Sunday's Kyiv win against Italy from base camp in Tallinn. The 45-year-old said the game acted as a "motivation" for his players as they prepare to defend their title.
"What we witnessed was a good example for our young stars as it not only showed them that they can win but more importantly, how they can win," he said. Assessing the difficult task his side face in adding a sixth U19 title to the trophy cabinet, Lopetegui said, "Every team in this tournament is strong and all are here having come through very hard qualifying games.
"We are witnessing a very good period for Portuguese and Greek youth development while Estonia have improved a lot recently and their knowledge of the surroundings here will obviously stand to them."
Kostas Tsanas is leading a Greece team into their fourth finals appearance in six years and their record in qualifying – where they remained unbeaten while winning five out of six games – is a cause for concern to all of their tournament rivals. However, they are without suspended duo Dimitris Kourmpelis and Kostas Stafylidis.
"We are among the best eight teams in Europe and we want to show that we deserve to be here," Tsanas said. "We are playing against sides with a great tradition in youth football but we will look to be competitive."
Pijpers – who only took over the Estonia team in March – said his players need to focus on the performances as opposed to fretting over results. "This is a big challenge for us and it is important that we are going to compete in a big tournament with strong opponents," he said. "We want show that we can play. We must work hard on every level and the coaches who were here before me did a good job in that aspect."
Estonia's first task at their Lilleküla Stadium will be to halt Portugal who completed qualifying as top scorers with 29 goals. Their coach Edgar Borges said the aim of his team was "the same as everyone else, to do well and try to qualify for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup" by finishing in the top three in the group.
He continued: "Every match here will be a final as we are playing against the best nations at this age level. Very small details will decide the outcome of these games but what is important for us is that we have a strong team identity."
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