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Supreme force in youth football

Published: Friday 16 May 2008, 11.01CET
Spain's 2008 UEFA European Under-17 Championship win was their eighth at this level including the former U16 event and most came under Juan Santisteban.
by Paul Saffer
from Antalya
Supreme force in youth football
Spain's players got their hands on the trophy tonight in Turkey but many of their compatriots know the feeling ©Sportsfile
Published: Friday 16 May 2008, 11.01CET

Supreme force in youth football

Spain's 2008 UEFA European Under-17 Championship win was their eighth at this level including the former U16 event and most came under Juan Santisteban.

Spain's 2008 UEFA European Under-17 Championship was their eighth at this level and all but two have come under venerable coach Juan Santisteban.

First titles
Their first final was in the fourth edition of the then U16 event, meeting Italy in Athens, and Gianni Flamigni's own goal ensured a 2-1 win and the debut title. Two years later Spain made the final again, this time on home soil. And after a 0-0 draw with Portugal in Madrid, Spain won 4-2 on penalties and became the first nation to take the trophy twice. The Santisteban era now began, and in 1991 Spain's third final came against a newly unified Germany in Bern. Antonio Robaina was the hero with two goals in the 25th minute to secure a 2-0 win. A year later these nations were matched again in Cyprus, but this time Germany prevailed 2-1.

Casillas heroics
In 1995 the U16 finals were in Belgium, and just as this year Santisteban led Spain to the final – though they went down 2-0 to Portugal. But better was to follow in Germany two years later as Spain took on Austria and won 5-4 on penalties after a goalless game, a young Iker Casillas between the posts. The Czech Republic staged the 1999 finals and Spain, with another future star Pepe Reina in goal, won through to play Poland for the trophy. And it was a fifth success, as although Jorge Perona's ninth strike of the finals was cancelled out by Rafal Grzelak, in the second half Pedro Álvarez, Ernesto Gomez and Elías Molina secured a 4-1 win.

Torres winner
England in 2001 marked the last tournament before the reclassification to U17 level, and it was appropriate that Spain marked the change with their sixth U16 title. Nearly 30,000 were present in Sunderland as France, who were to go on to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup, were defeated by a 76th-minute Fernando Torres penalty.

U17 defeats
However, Spain tasted defeat in their first to U17 finals, each game against host nations. In 2003 against Portugal, although David Rodríguez cancelled out Márcio Sousa's first-half goal, the home player struck again to earn a 2-1 win. A year on in France, Kévin Constant put the home side ahead and Gerard Piqué equalised for a Spain side including Cesc Fabregas, only for Samir Nasri to score for Les Mini-Bleus from distance in the last minute.

Further honours
That was of course avenged in style with a 4-0 victory this year in Turkey, but already Spain had added an U17 title as in 2007 they began by beating France 2-0 and ended with a 1-0 final defeat of England in Belgium courtest of Bojan Krkić. Not only that, but in the modern U19 event Spain won in 2002, 2004 and 2006 before Santisteban took temporary charge last year and masterminded yet another success in Austria.

Last updated: 09/07/08 11.10CET

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