David de Gea told UEFA.com about his joy at playing for Spain's Under-21s, the work of coach Julen Lopetegui and the "unbelievable level" of the country's national teams.
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Yet to concede a goal at these finals, David de Gea has more than played his part in Spain's achievement in reaching the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals. Indeed, from his vantage point, the goalkeeper takes pleasure in admiring a new generation of Spanish players as they seek to repeat the winning feats of those who triumphed so stylishly in Denmark in 2011.
Having recently won a Premier League title alongside a group of formidable Manchester United FC team-mates, De Gea now finds himself among another squad chasing perfection. Just two games away from equalling Santi Denia's all-time U21 record of 27 appearances, Spain's No1 would be forgiven for feeling confident of achieving that target – having never suffered a loss in 22 competitive matches (19 wins and three draws) with La Rojita.
UEFA.com: When you saw the draw for the finals, did you imagine you would progress to the last four in the way you have?
David de Gea: When we realised who we'd be up against in our group we thought it was going to be very difficult and I think that's just how it turned out. We've played well and haven't conceded and they are the keys to our getting first place. Those factors led to a feeling of security. We are winning games [while] our opponents aren't having many chances. The team are attacking and defending well.
UEFA.com: Is it easy to adapt to operating behind a defence that like to play out from the back and with whom you need to be in constant communication?
De Gea: We've been together for a long time and have played a lot of matches. Once we have had a few training sessions together, we are back into our rhythm and know what is expected of us. We all know one another perfectly and the truth is that it is a pleasure playing with these boys.
UEFA.com: You are one of the players that won the tournament in Denmark two years ago. What motivates you and those who were there to repeat the victory?
De Gea: What we achieved back then was something wonderful.
The message we try to transmit to the group is that this is a unique tournament that you might only play once in your career, or if you are very lucky, twice. You have to give everything you have and to live it with a lot of hope and expectation. You have to try to win at all costs.
UEFA.com: From your position, how did you feel when witnessing the late winners against Russia and Germany?
De Gea: Those moments gave me a lot of pleasure. There are some teams against whom it costs a lot more effort to win than others, and there are also times when the ball just doesn't want to go in. However, fortune was on our side in that we scored in the final throes in those games. They were two great victories against very difficult opponents.
UEFA.com: Do you see any similarities between the upcoming semi-final against Norway and the last-four encounter with Belarus in 2011? Two teams that were perhaps not favourites to get this far.
De Gea: We've already spoken about this in the dressing room. These are always the trickiest games because the tendency can be to feel relaxed and say you are going to win. They are matches that make life tricky for you, especially with your opponents starting so highly motivated.
UEFA.com: You are two games away from equalling Santi Denia's record of 27 Spanish U21 caps. What has it meant to you playing at this level?
De Gea: There have been many games and European tournaments and they all give you experience. The truth is that I am delighted to be with this team and I would have loved to play many, many more games [at this level].
UEFA.com: From the inside, how do you sum up the amount of success Spain are having lately?
De Gea: Spain are at an unbelievable level. The senior side have won two UEFA EUROs and a FIFA World Cup. You couldn't ask for more. It's difficult to imagine another generation like the one we have now. All of Spain and the world are enjoying the football they are playing.
UEFA.com: What is it like playing under coach Julen Lopetegui?
De Gea: He knows us very well. As a former player, he knows what it is to be here playing big matches and he transmits that message to us. I think he is doing a good job. For us goalkeepers it's a plus because he kept goal in some really big sides and can offer all sorts of advice. He's a big help.