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Spain out despite saving best until last

Spain's reign as European Under-19 champions ended with their semi-final defeat by France, causing great sadness for captain José Rodríguez and goalkeeper Rubén Blanco.

José Rodríguez was one of Spain's star turns at the U19 finals
José Rodríguez was one of Spain's star turns at the U19 finals ©Sportsfile

Spain captain José Rodríguez lamented his side's exit from the UEFA European Under-19 Championship, telling UEFA.com the reigning champions were going home despite producing their best display against France in the semi-finals.

The six-time tournament winners had advanced past the French at the same stage last year and, after Real Madrid CF midfielder Rodríguez netted a 27th-minute penalty in Kaunas on Monday, the omens looked good for Luis de la Fuente's team. France responded, however, Yassine Benzia equalising two minutes later. A scoreless second half then prompted extra time where Antoine Conte struck the match winner for Les Petits Bleus.

"I don't think we could say there was any key to tonight's game," Rodríguez said. "More than a key, there was a mistake which was us letting our opponents into the match. I think we played our best game of the tournament but unfortunately it has come with our elimination."

One of Spain's standout performers in Lithuania, the 18-year-old arrived at these finals having gained Copa del Rey, Liga and even UEFA Champions League experience (as a substitute against AFC Ajax last December) with Madrid last season. Though happy to have further continued his education with the U19s, he ultimately leaves the championship feeling frustrated.

"We have 17, 18 and 19-year-olds in this squad so it's true that the most important thing was to learn," he said. "Having said that, our objective coming into this competition was to win it, so we're leaving here disappointed not to have done that." 

Goalkeeper Rubén Blanco cut a similarly forlorn figure after the loss and refused to acknowledge his own outstanding showing against the French. "Football is a team sport so you have to value the collective effort over any individual one," the RC Celta de Vigo custodian told UEFA.com. "You can never be happy when you lose. I don't think the result reflects what happened in the match but football is like that – you don't get what you deserve sometimes."

U19 champions over the past two years, Spain had qualified for the last four with a 100% record in the group stage – form which caused Rubén to be all the more stunned following Monday's defeat. "I have learned the difference between qualifying for the semis relatively easy and then suddenly being out," he said. "Nonetheless, I think at our age, these tournaments are great because you are competing against European players at the same level as you."

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