Spain and Greece set for Tallinn showpiece

Julen Lopetegui predicts Spain will be pushed hard by Greece with Kostas Tsanas hoping the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final will be "a celebration of football".

Greece coach Kostas Tsanas (left) and Julen Lopetegui of Spain with the trophy
©Sportsfile

Julen Lopetegui expects his Spain side to be pushed to the limit by Greece as they attempt to retain the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Tallinn.

La Rojita are in the final for the third year running and are seeking their sixth title but, despite their dominance of the competition and the confidence provided by a 2-1 victory against their opponents in their first game in Estonia, Lopetegui is taking nothing for granted. "Expectation is always high ahead of a final like this and we know these type of games present a lot of difficulties," he said. "It will be a very even game. The last match between us was hard for both sides. We had to play at our limits in the semi-final and I expect this game to be as tough."

Both teams were made to work hard in the last four, Greece playing for 75 minutes with ten men before defeating England in extra time while Spain needed penalties to overcome a dogged France. "The semi-finals were very, very hard for us both," Lopetegui added. "We've tried to recuperate and make sure we're ready. When you get to the final, you can be tired but it's your mentality that's most important."

Kostas Tsanas will have no concerns on that score after Greece's display of semi-final fortitude. "It was a very tough effort against England, especially with ten players for such a long time," he said. "To be in the final gives us extra motivation and we'll try to prepare as best as we can."

The semi-final toils have taken a toll on both squads, Spain calling in Nono to replace injured midfielder Saúl Ñiguez while Greece will be without suspended goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino. Panagiotis Tsintotas comes into the squad, midfielder Vasilis Bouzas making way.

The coaches were full of respect for their opponents, Lopetegui saying: "Greece have demonstrated a lot of joy in their work. They play with a lot of passion but most importantly they have a great team. They have six players in particular who are very dangerous going forward: [Panagiotis] Ballas, [Dimitris] Diamantakos, [Spyros] Fourlanos, [Giannis] Gianniotas, [Giorgos] Katidis and [Charis] Mavrias. They will push you to the limit, possibly the strongest team we have faced here and worthy finalists."

The Spain coach also paid tribute to the efforts of his opposite number, a compliment that was returned by Tsanas. "Spain always play their own way – the fact everyone knows how they play and they still keep winning is extraordinary," he said. "They control the match from the first minute to the last and what I like best is their philosophy. If you don't have a good coach, you can't play like that."

Greece were runners-up to Spain in the 2007 tournament, Daniel Parejo scoring the only goal of the final in Austria as the Iberian side became the only country to successfully defend the U19 title. "We respect Spain very much as they're the defending champions, but we'll do our best to give them a tough match," Tsanas said. "We hope it'll be a celebration for football. Maybe for Spain it's ordinary to be in the final but for us it's very beautiful."

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