Julen Lopetegui has reflected on Spain’s challenge in trying to retain their title this Tuesday against Italy in the European Under-21 Championship Final.
La Rojita’s 3-0 win at the weekend against Norway progressed them through to this midweek’s competition final in Israel, where they will face Devis Mangia’s Azzurrini.
“[A final] forces you to reach to your limits, in every sense: in a defensive sense, in terms of attacking, on a mental level and on a physical level,” Lopetegui commented in an interview with UEFA published today.
“So you have to be ready to reach your limits, because an opponent like that forces you to, without any doubt. "It's a beautiful final and it will surely be a hard-fought one as well.
“Italy are a team who still maintain the [traditional] qualities of Italian football, but they've also taken a step forward in many other areas.
“They have a real ability to create danger on the pitch, with great players in a defensive structure – a very balanced team, with a different style, but certainly not less attractive or less effective. They're a very good team.”
Even so, Spain are favourites, having yet to concede in the tournament and having not lost a competitive game in over three-and-a-half years.
“The strength of each team is decided by the squad. In a short competition like this, everyone needs to be committed to the same goal, and everyone needs to contribute.
“Everyone needs to be confident, they all need to add their input, so that the squad can stay fresh and at the right level.
“In that sense we are lucky that, except for the goalkeepers, all the boys have been able to play. That says something about the confidence there is in this squad.”
Lopetegui also faced the collective media today and was probed further on Spain’s success so far in trying to retain their 2011 crown and their notable performers to date.
“The excitement? We cannot control what does not concern us directly. What we have in our hands is what we will work on.
“We just smile when they say we are favourites. We are talking about Italy and know that this is a final. The two teams are both going to have their chances.
“We will not waste energy saying what people want, we have to spend energy in focusing better on the game.
“Isco? We know of Isco as we do the rest of the players, all have quality and potential. The individual talent has to be at the service of the collective.
“We are delighted with the performance of Isco and of all the players in this tournament.”
Lopetegui was asked what version of Italy he expects to face.
“The Italy that I hope for is a team that will compel us to our limit. They are a team with many alternatives in attacking play and with few defensive cracks, if any.
“It’s a final, it’s against Italy. Their players have much experience and are at a high level.
“We have a tremendous ambition, a lot. It’s a final.”