Fabio Capello may have paid little attention to the England Under-19 team's stubborn progress at the European Championship, but if they beat Spain in this afternoon's semi-final in Saint-Lo the senior team manager should seriously consider making the short hop across the Channel for Friday's final.
This Spanish side are regarded as the most talented of all the La Roja teams to have shone at this level – Spain have been the dominant force at this, and other, junior levels for the best part of the last decade. Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland manager now Uefa's technical director, has watched every European age group final since he took up his current role 16 years ago and rates this Spanish side as the best yet – this from a man who has marvelled at the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Fernando Torres over the years.
Spain's style of play will be familiar to anyone who watched their seniors triumph in South Africa earlier this month. Whatever the level, Spanish national sides are sent out in the same formation and to produce the same fluid passing and movement; it's junior tiki-taki. The attention to detail among the Spanish set-up is such that the chef who cooked for Iker Casillas and Co at the World Cup barely had time to unpack his utensils back home before being dispatched to Normandy.
Where England have battled their way through, displaying impressive resilience – it took a goal in the third minute of injury time against France on Saturday to earn a place in the last four – Spain's progress has been more certain, and stylish. Saturday's 3-0 defeat of Italy to make it three wins out of three in the group stages was adjudged to have been the performance of the competition so far. Confidence is sky high.
"It's normal that the players are on a high after what they've achieved so far," said Luis Milla, Spain's coach. "As a team we have a certain personality and a set way of playing. This gives us opportunities to attack our rivals and we want to continue along this line.
"We know we must take certain things into account as England are a very dynamic, physical team who have pace and good technical ability."
England reached the final of this tournament last year, losing to Ukraine, but their hopes of returning have been hit by the suspension of Dean Parrett, the lively Tottenham midfielder, while they also have some injury worries. "That's part of tournament football and you have to learn to cope with it," said Noel Blake, England's coach. "Spain are a very good side, they're a leading nation at youth level, as with the seniors. It's a difficult task but the biggest thing for us is to perform. If we play to the level we expect, we've generally been OK."
In today's other semi-final, France take on Croatia in Caen, the venue for Friday evening's final.Reuse content