Spain’s bright future

Since the Spanish side of Luis Aragones shook the monkey from their back to lift the European Championship trophy in Vienna four years ago, it’s fair to say La Roja have experienced a fair amount of success.

Two European crowns and one World Cup isn’t bad for a nation once considered the archetypal underachievers. However that, haul pales into insignificance to the success enjoyed by the country’s Under-19 squad who are currently well on their way to retaining their European crown in Estonia.

Victory for Julen Lopetegui’s side would not only see them retain the title they won in Romania last year, it would also record an unprecedented sixth trophy in 10 years, making Spain the most successful Sub-19 nation in European history.

The Spanish youngsters are certainly going about things in the right way as well. Monday’s 2-0 victory over Estonia saw them dominate the hosts with comprehensive possession, taking their goal tally up to an impressive seven in three games in the process.

They’ve not had it all their own way however, and there has been a fair amount of frustration around for Lopetegui and his coaching staff during the three Group A games Spain have played.

The opening 2-1 victory over Greece went from a first-half stroll to a nerve-jangling final 15 minutes as La Rojita let their opponents get a foothold in a game that should really have been won by half-time.

Next up, Portugal were able to come from behind three times to earn a point in a six-goal thriller at Tallinn’s Lillekula Stadium. The highlight of the game was undoubtedly the stunning hat-trick from Jese Rodriguez as the Real Madrid starlet showed why he is rated so highly around Valdebebas.

Many have compared the 19-year-old to Cristiano Ronaldo and it is not hard to see why as Jese terrorised the Portuguese defence, only to see his hard work undone by some lacklustre defending from his teammates.

The Real Madrid man served a suspension during the encounter with Estonia, leaving last year’s leading goalscorer Paco Alcacer the chance to stake a claim for a semi-final spot.

The Valencian struggled to impose himself on the game however, showing little of the form that made him such a revelation in Romania 12 months ago. The lack of attacking threat shown by his side in the absence of the clinical Jese may just be cause for concern for Lopetegui.

There have been many positives, however, not least the continued fantastic form of the youngest player in the Spanish squad – 16-year-old Alejandro Grimaldo. The Barcelona B player has been nothing short of sensational operating down the left-flank and the talented wing-back will surely get his chance at senior level before too long.

Grimaldo was imperious against Estonia and gave every indication he has a very bright future ahead of him – in fact it may come as a surprise to many that Barca went out and bought Jordi Alba when they already have somebody with Grimaldo’s potential within their ranks.

While Grimaldo has barely put a foot wrong, his club teammate Gerard Deulofeu has impressed and infuriated in equal measure as sublime skill on the ball has been let down by bad decision-making far too often. The Catalan is most certainly a precocious talent, yet has much maturing to do before he is ready for an assault on Tito Vilanova’s first team.

And so to the semi-final for Spain where they now face France on Thursday, in a match that should provide a stern test for Lopetegui’s youngsters. Les Bleuets came into the tournament as second favourites and were already guaranteed a final four berth ahead of their encounter with England on Monday evening.

However a 2-1 defeat against Noel Baxter’s side leaves them facing the reigning champions who, despite frustrating on occasion, look well on the way to claiming yet another international title and entering the record books. Success indeed.