"We have to fulfil our historic duty," Spain coach Luis de la Fuente told UEFA.com as his U19 crop head to Greece hoping to add a seventh title to La Roja's record haul.
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As the most successful nation in the competition's history, six-time winners Spain are always considered a likely candidate to lift the trophy at the end of a UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals. Having scored 13 goals across their three elite round matches in getting to Greece, those chances of victory are as strong as ever. UEFA.com sat down with coach Luis de la Fuente to assess just how good his current crop are and whether they can match La Roja's victorious teams of the past.
UEFA.com: You hope to go far in the tournament, but will Group B – along with Germany, the Netherlands and Russia – be especially difficult to get out of?
Luis de la Fuente: We are looking forward to participating in the tournament, we are happy to be back. However the draw was a very difficult one. All eight teams are great, but in our group there are four candidates for the title. In any case however, we acknowledge that in a final tournament there are no easy games anyway.
UEFA.com: What are your aspirations for the tournament?
De la Fuente: We want to prove equal to previous Spanish U19 teams who have done so well in this competition. There are expectations of us and we have to fulfill our historic duty and perform to the limit of our capabilities in an effort to win the tournament. Our objective is to win matches, but also to put on a great overall performance.
We play with the ball down, we trust in the youth football of Spain which boasts some great talents and hopefully they will lead us to success. Our final aim is to lift the trophy, but it will be a very tough undertaking. There are some excellent teams present. We know Germany very well, Russia and the Netherlands are also very good – all of them are aiming for the title, just as we are.
UEFA.com: There is a lot of hype surrounding Marco Asensio after his move from RCD Mallorca to Real Madrid CF. What does he bring to the team?
De la Fuente: Fundamentally he is a very intelligent boy with very good footballing qualities as well. He offers his great quality, but he stands out for his adaptation to the work of the team. He offers himself completely to the team and that allows him to highlight his individual quality. It is the same with some of his team-mates who have great quality, but they all play for the team.
UEFA.com: Is the fact so many former Spanish winners of this tournament – such as Gerard Piqué and Álvaro Morata - have gone on to have great careers with the senior Spanish national team and in the UEFA Champions League an extra inspiration for your players?
De la Fuente: We are in a continual process of forming the players so that they can continue to grow as players and as people. Therefore, it is very important for them to see those players that are in the Spanish national team and who have won EURO and World Cups who also played at youth level for Spain, and won the U19 championship. It is a great motivation because it could make a mark for the future, it could allow them to have a brilliant start to their professional careers.
UEFA.com: A number of your squad have had significant first-team experience this season, how much of an advantage is that against sides made up primarily of academy players?
De la Fuente: It is a natural process. These boys are still very young. Curiously we have nearly 50% of the squad who were born in 1997 which means that next year they can still play with the U19s. We have managed to get a group of players together that are very young, but very promising. It is fortunate that many already play in the professional leagues, that is to the credit of the clubs who are very brave in giving the young players a chance and to the players who have the talent to play in difficult leagues.
UEFA.com: You mentioned you've got a young side. Is this tournament a stepping stone for next year, or are you confident the team is ready to win in Greece?
De la Fuente: The most important thing is player development. If we are capable of doing more and competing to win the tournament then it is very important and very prestigious to Spanish football and to the players. But we cannot forget that these are very young lads and they are still learning. Therefore, what we want is that they continue to grow and that one day they go on to be part of the senior Spanish national team.
The first step is that they go onto become good players, good people and that they have a future with their clubs and hopefully the national team. After that, we aim to be competitive as representing Spain has the highest demands, we want to compete and we have the ambition to try and win this tournament.