A FIFA World Cup winner last summer, winger Juan Mata is excited by the chance of helping to lead "a very good new generation" to glory at these Under-21 finals in Denmark.
Article top media content
Juan Mata has already won the FIFA World Cup with Spain but is still excited at the prospect of competing with "a very good new generation" at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
The 23-year-old Valencia CF left winger played just 20 minutes of Spain's triumphant campaign in South Africa and is likely to take a more prominent role in Denmark alongside fellow World Cup winner Javi Martínez. If the pair could be a little underwhelmed to be appearing at the U21 finals following their experiences last summer, Mata insists he is delighted to have this chance to impress alongside Spain's new crop.
"For me and Javi, it's a nice experience to play together with all the other young lads. It's a good thing – we know the team and the coach. Although the two of us played at the World Cup, we have a very good new generation and I see lots of players who have the quality to assume responsibility."
Vicente del Bosque was in charge when Mata and Martínez lifted the World Cup, but former FC Barcelona, Real Madrid CF and Valencia midfielder Luis Milla will be the boss for Spain's Group B campaign in Jutland. "As a player he liked one-touch football very much," said Mata, who has 11 senior caps. "He was a great midfielder, he liked long and short passes and playing attractive football. That's the way football should be played."
Working under the 45-year-old Milla is certainly a change from the style of coaching Mata knows under Del Bosque, 60. "Maybe he talks more or is more direct than Del Bosque, but I think Vicente is a great mediator for the team and the players. He creates a good group and a good atmosphere. Especially with the senior team, all those world-class players, he basically lets them be football players."
A 2006 UEFA European U19 Championship winner while still a Real Madrid CF youth-teamer, Mata hopes his U21 colleagues are ready for another title. "The team have become very strong since qualifying, where we only managed to get through in the last matches," said a player now with 33 goals in 129 games for Valencia. "The team have gained a lot of confidence from winning important matches. We definitely want to qualify for the Olympics, which is our main objective – to be among the top three and make it to London."