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The Spanish Enigma

“How can Spain amass titles at youth level while the senior side invariably fail at major tournaments?” is a question that has long baffled football fans all over the globe. Here is an attempt to provide them with an answer.

Whereas the Spanish U-20 team have been world champions on one occasion (1999) and runners-up twice (1985 and 2003) and the U-17s have been runners-up three times (1991, 2003 and 2007), the senior side have not won any major honours since their triumph in Madrid as hosts of the 1964 European Championship. On top of that, the Spanish U-19s have been European champions on four occasions since the turn of the century (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007), while the U-l6s and U-17s won the same title in their age group in 1997, 1999,2001 and 2007.
As if that were not enough, Spain have also been runners-up in various European championships at youth level, have won one Olympic gold and one silver medal (in 1992 and 2000 respectively) and two European U-21 Championships (in 1984 and 1998).
In recognition of these achievements, UEFA, which since 1990 has awarded the Maurice Burlaz trophy to the European association that has produced the most successful youth teams over the previous two years, has conferred this honour on Spain on seven out of nine occasions (1994, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007).
The question of the senior team’s failure is all the more painful when one considers that Spain are also a dominant force in futsal after winning the last two FIFA Futsal World Championships (2000 and 2004), coming second in the one before that (1996) and lifting the European Championship on three occasions (1996, 2001 and 2005).