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When Spain won back-to-back UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship titles in 2010 and 2011, the elite at U19 level braced themselves for the arrival of a new challenger. They are still waiting, but maybe not for much longer. The architect of that double success, Jorge Vilda, has moved up an age group and is in no doubt about his remit.
"We have been playing for five years now at the top level of Under-17 football, and that should be having an impact on not only the Under-19s but also the A national team," said the former FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF youth-team player. "What you see is that in all other European countries girls make a huge jump in quality when they step up to the Under-19 teams, but you don't notice that so much in Spain.
"We have achieved good results at Under-17 level and with the Under-19 teams – such as reaching these finals. But we haven't won as many titles as the Under-17 teams. We will fight hard in Norway to go a long way and achieve that desired trophy." Spain, of course, have had their hands on the trophy before. In 2004 they completed a remarkable turnaround, dusting themselves down after a 7-0 group-stage loss to Germany and proceeding to the final, where they got their revenge with a stunning 2-1 victory.
This is their sixth tournament since but just once have they advanced beyond the group stage: in 2012 they made the final but were edged out by Sweden in extra time. Many of that side – coached by Vilda's father Ángel – were drawn from the U17 teams of 2010 and 2011 and in April Vilda Jr experienced final defeat himself as Spain lost to Japan in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup decider.
"For Spain it was an unprecedented achievement to win the silver medal in Costa Rica," said Vilda, who left the U19 squad in Pedro López's hands in the elite round of this championship as the dates clashed. "[The federation] has been working hard for many years now, both at club level and within the different regional associations. We have picked up that work and have been striving to do our best. We try to put together the right girls' teams."
Having failed to qualify last season, this team is shaping up nicely, progressing after narrow wins against Portugal and Switzerland either side of a 10-0 demolition of Belarus. There is plenty of cause for optimism, and Vilda says his charges have as good a chance as any. "Now we have the eight best teams in Europe. I think both groups are pretty similar in strength and the standard is very high. Any team you face has the power to beat you."
Spain kick off in Group B on 15 July against the Republic of Ireland, the country the U17s beat to collect their first title in 2010. A sign?
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