El Centrocampista

Job done for Spanish kids yet room for improvement remains

That fact that Spain’s under 19 side were left hanging on at the end of their 2-1 victory over Greece will not have particularly pleased coach Julen Lopetegui, however it went some way to demonstrate the defending European Champions have the resolve to go with their relentless possession.

The talented set of youngsters went into the opening Group A game in Haapsalu confident of emulating the recent exploits of the senior squad in Poland and Ukraine, yet ended it feeling rather less comfortable than they would have hoped – especially after their dominant first half performance had seen them comprehensively outplay their opponents.

Barcelona’s exciting Gerard Deulofeu was a constant threat down the right flank in the first period – proving why he is so highly thought of around the Camp Nou, and the 18-year-old’s Barca team mate, Alejandro Grimaldo was equally as impressive rampaging down the left. At just 16, Grimaldo could prove to be an even better prospect than Deulofeu.

There were also some fantastic performances elsewhere in Lopetegui’s side during the first half, not least from Atletico Madrid’s Oliver Torres who was arguably their stand-out performer. The nimble creative midfielder was majestic at times, with the majority of the Spanish attacking play coming  through the 18-year-old.

Jese Rodriguez, one of a number of precocious talents recently produced by the Real Madrid academy at Valdebebas, displayed some of his potential as he glided past two Greek players to smash in the opening goal with 30 minutes played and when fellow Madrid player Derik Osede doubled their lead five minutes from the break, the game looked over for Kostas Tsanas and his side.

Credit must go to the Greeks then, that they put in a second-half performance that was almost the polar-opposite to their first half display. This shouldn’t have come as any surprise to the Spanish of course, as Greece went into the match unbeaten in almost twelve months, however when Dimitris Diamantakos halved the deficit with 25 minutes to play, the young la Roja began to look decidedly less assured than in the previous hour.

Lopetegui’s youngsters were left to hold on as their opponents continued to push forward in the closing stages, yet hold on they did – despite Giannis Gianniotas missing a glorious chance in the closing stages.

As it stands, Spain have got their defence off to a winning start, which is more than the senior side managed, however like Del Bosque’s men the overall display of the under 19 side leaves many questions to be answered.

Friday’s game against Portugal is sure to provide a sterner test and should prove a better barometer with which to gauge Spain’s chances of retaining their European crown won last summer in Romania.

The first hurdle has been cleared for the Spanish in Estonia, yet there is still  much room for improvement.

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