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Spain wary of Group A challengers

With a 100% record in Group A, Spain are favoured to advance to the semi-finals yet Portugal, the Netherlands and Lithuania all still harbour hopes of reaching the last four.

Spain coach Luis de la Fuente is taking nothing for granted in Group A
Spain coach Luis de la Fuente is taking nothing for granted in Group A ©sefutbol.com

With UEFA European Under-19 Championship Group A in the balance going into the final round of games, coaches of all four teams are preaching a winning mantra as both semi-final places are still on offer.

Section leaders Spain hold the advantage with six points from their two matches against Portugal and Lithuania and coach Luis de la Fuente told UEFA.com he was expecting an exciting finale against a Netherlands side who are level with the Portuguese on three points. "I predict a very open encounter in which both teams will be faithful to their style of play," he said. "Both will most likely play very offensively while looking to be in control because that's when each are most comfortable."

A point will take Spain – for whom Héctor Bellerín completes a two-match ban – through as group winners but the former Athletic Club defender is taking no chances, knowing that a defeat by two or more goals against Wim van Zwam's side combined with a Portugal triumph would scupper his squad's ambitions. "We will have to be very wary of the huge potential of our opponents," De la Fuente said. "Against Portugal, the Netherlands didn't deserve to lose 4-1 while in the Lithuania game they struggled a little – as we did – against a very disciplined team."

Left somewhat deflated following that heavy reverse against the Portuguese, Oranje coach Van Zwam said the task of lifting his players to face the six-time tournament winners is imperative to their prospects of appearing in a first semi-final at this level. "Of course we were very disappointed [with that result], but the focus now turns to Spain, which represents our last chance," he said. "Before we had great hopes for the semi-final but it's hard for everybody. Normally it's difficult to pick the players up but Portugal did just that against us [having previously lost to Spain] and now we need to do the same."

Should Spain beat the Netherlands, a Lithuania win against Portugal by 2-0 or a three-goal margin would take Antanas Vingilys's team through but the coach realises his bottom-placed side must "play at our very best," if they are to register their first win of these finals. "We expect a very difficult game against Portugal," he said. "They are very well prepared physically. They are a quick team and technically gifted and we'll try to change our game plan so as to be a bit more proactive during the match."

A win for Portugal, runners-up in 2003, against the hosts would maximise their chances of progressing but with João Cancelo, Luís Rafael, Leandro Silva and Bernardo Silva all within a booking of missing any potential semi-final, Emílio Peixe's men may need to be cautious. "We expect strong, aggressive opponents who might not have as many skillful players as Spain or the Netherlands but who nonetheless have a really good team," the coach explained. "Lithuania will give us a really tough match but we knew that this group would be decided in the very last minutes of the third game."

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