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Denia looking forward to Spain's finals return

Two-time winners Spain have not graced the U17 finals since 2010, and coach Santi Denia says it is "our turn to compete, play in, and above all enjoy" the tournament.

Spain came through an elite round group in which they faced Sweden
Spain came through an elite round group in which they faced Sweden ©Manuel Queimadelos

For a nation with such a storied history in youth football as Spain, it is surprising that the 2015 UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Bulgaria will be their first final tournament at this level in five years.

Not since Liechtenstein 2010 – when a squad featuring Jesé Rodríguez, Paco Alcácer and Gerard Deulofeu made it to the final, losing to England – have La Roja graced the latter stages of this competition, a fact all the more perplexing when you consider Spain's extensive roll of honour: two U17 titles, six U16 triumphs and as many U19 successes.

With Spain having been away from the U17 party for so long, coach Santi Denia told UEFA.com it is now "our turn to compete, play in, and above all enjoy being part of this tournament – the players have earned that right".

They did so by winning their qualifying round section and then finishing second in elite round Group 1 behind France, advancing unbeaten to the expanded 16-team finals as one of the seven runners-up. They will certainly not have it easy on their return to the main stage.

Santi Denia (right) and Julen Lopetegui
Santi Denia (right) and Julen Lopetegui©Sportsfile

"It's a very tough draw for us, because we're in with the hosts and two teams that qualified top of their groups in Croatia and Austria," said Denia, assistant to Julen Lopetegui when Spain won the U21 title in Israel two years ago. "The draw has handed us some very difficult opponents, but we can now start focusing on our first game against Austria."

After that comes a test against Bulgaria in Burgas, also the venue for their first fixture on 6 May. "The atmosphere will definitely be a boost for the host nation, but we hope that playing in a full stadium will also be a source of motivation for us," reasoned Denia. "We need to focus on our first game, on the Austria match, and use this month to prepare well for that and the rest of the championship."

Spain celebrate qualifying for the finals
Spain celebrate qualifying for the finals©sefutbol.com

The initial aim is to get off to a positive start. Then "like all the other teams, why not go for the championship, why not be ambitious?" asked Denia. "If we can put in a good performance and can reach the semi-finals we'll be guaranteed a place at the [FIFA U-17] World Cup. To do that, we'll have to have a great European Championship. That's our goal: to have a great tournament."