El Centrocampista

Spain’s next generation look for more European conquest

Just two days after Spain’s historic Euro 2012 success in Kiev, la Roja’s  under 19 squad are looking to make some history of their own as they get ready to defend their Uefa Under-19 Championship crown in Estonia.

Julen Lopetegui’s youngsters face Greece in the tournament’s opening game tomorrow hopeful they can emulate the achievements of the senior side, a feat which would also bring them level with England’s for the most triumphs in tournament history. Success in Estonia would see Spain secure a record ninth title and their sixth in the decade since the tournament evolved from its previous Under-18 age restriction in 2002.

Spain will not have it their own way however as a number of teams look to stop Lopetegui’s starlets continuing the recent Spanish dominance of continental football across the age groups; Pierre Mankowski’s France are considered a real threat while England and Italy both take strong-looking squads to Estonia.

It is the Spanish that begin the tournament as favourites however and it would take a brave man indeed to bet against a side that includes a number of players that are already household names to many fans of La Liga.

The side’s skipper, Malaga’s Juanmi Jimenez leads from the front and has scored an impressive eight goals in 15 games under Lopetegui. A lethal finisher, Juanmi made history in January 2010 when he became Malaga’s youngest ever goal scorer after netting against Getafe aged just 16. Despite seeing limited playing time at La Rosaleda last season, the 19-year-old has still managed five goals in 28 games for the Andaluz side.

Lopetegui has something of a selection headache upfront however as he also has the incredible talent of Real Madrid’s Jese Rodriguez,Valencia’s Paco Alcacer and Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu to call upon.

Rodriguez made his senior debut for Jose Mourinho’s side in March and the winger is seen as one of the brightest talents to emerge form the academy at Valdebebas in recent years.

Meanwhile, Alcacer has scored an incredible 42 times in 60 games for Valencia Mestalla and 18-year-old Deulofeu earned rave reviews for Eusebio Sacristan’s Barcelona B side last season.

In midfield, the Basque coach has the likes of Sevilla’s Jose Campaña, Valencia’s Juan Bernat and Manchester City’s highly-rated Denis Suarez, while in defence Jonas Ramalho – the first black player in Athletic Club history, and the precious talent of Barcelona’s 16-year-old Alejandro Grimaldo will be sure to excite with their surging runs down the flanks.

The class of 2012 certainly have the potential to continue the success enjoyed over the last decade by the Spanish under-19 youngsters, and the likes of Deulofeu, Alcacer and Rodriguez look to be more than capable of following in the footsteps of the former stars of the under-19 setup that are now enjoying so much success with the senior side.

Whatever happens in Estonia over the next two weeks however, the Spanish conveyor belt of talent currently shows little sign of slowing down.


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