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1998: Francesc Arnau

Spain
1998: Francesc Arnau
Francesc Arnau was the rock on which Spain built their success ©Getty Images

1998: Francesc Arnau

Spain

Guti, Juan Carlos Valerón and Roger García all came to the fore as Spain claimed their second UEFA Under-21 European Championship trophy in Romania in 1998, but it was their well-honed defence that really stood out. Marshalled by FC Barcelona goalkeeper Francesc Arnau, Spain conceded just six goals in eight games in qualifying – an impressive record, but their back line made even that look lax during the final tournament in Romania.

With goals proving hard to come by for Iñaki Sáez's side, Arnau came to the fore, providing the bedrock of an impervious defensive line. With Villarreal CF's Javier López Vallejo waiting in the wings, he proved unbeatable, keeping Russia and Norway at bay before guiding Spain to a third successive 1-0 victory in the final against a hitherto free-flowing Greece team. Iván Pérez might have scored the all-important goal but unbeaten in 270 minutes, Las Planas-born Arnau took the plaudits.

It was a remarkable contribution by a man that started out as a defender before being forced, reluctantly, between the posts. "I quickly became bored as a goalkeeper, so I switched to ping-pong for a year before deciding to put the gloves back on," Arnau later recalled. He joined Barça aged 14 and made his top-flight debut seven years later. The U21 triumph promised much but a series of injuries hampered his progress although he prospered after linking up with Málaga CF in 2001.

 
Last updated: 20/08/08 19.31CET

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