Spain's Under-21 side are looking to follow the lead of their senior counterparts by winning back-to-back European titles.
That ambition was only too evident from listening to the survivors of their winning team from the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals in Denmark. Julen Lopetegui's squad features five players who were present in Aarhus on the night a 2-0 victory over Switzerland sealed the country's third U21 crown and ahead of opening their title defence against Russia on Thursday, memories of that Scandinavian summer evening came flooding back.
The team's captain, Thiago Alcántara, scored Spain's spectacular long-range goal against Switzerland in that final. Two years on he is a much-respected leader of the group, having gained considerable experience with FC Barcelona subsequently. For Spain's creator-in-chief, the experience here in Israel is already proving different – "you live it differently" – but some things do not change.
"The excitement is there again about playing a big UEFA tournament – we want to play it and to win it," he said. "We've got so much desire to win this trophy again." Recalling his memories of 2011 under Luis Milla, Thiago added: "The first against England was really tough for us [Spain conceded a last-minute equaliser]. And the semi-final against Belarus was the kind of match everyone wants to win because of the excitement and final reward [Spain equalised in the dying moments before prevailing in extra time]."
Athletic Club midfielder Iker Muniain did not feature in Spain's opening fixture of 2011 but played every game subsequently. He said: "Our objective, as always, is to give everything in every game and from there, get through all the rounds to the final and try to win it. But right now we have to focus on Russia."
Another survivor of 2011 is back-up goalkeeper Diego Mariño. The Villarreal CF custodian will play second fiddle to David de Gea in Israel once more but he is ready to play his part if called on. "You have to stay alert because at any moment the team might need you and you might have to come on and be 100% concentrated," he said.
De Gea himself, who conceded only twice in Denmark, said he had "happy memories" of that summer but the goal is to create more now, as Thiago reminded us yet again: "I hope to repeat that this year because it's a very special tournament."
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