Spain’s Under-21s made short work of Tuesday’s European championship final at the Teddy stadium, beating Italy by four goals to two to retain the trophy they won two years ago in Denmark.
Julen Lopetegui’s team put in a performance which will surely hearten the senior side’s coach - Vicente Del Bosque must be feeling very proud that another generation of talented players is emerging and look set to supersede those who are the current world and European champions at full international level.
True to style, Spain looked comfortable on the ball and appear to have shaken off the trepidation that they have traditionally shown against Italian opposition once and for all. Illarra and Iñigo Martínez covered the backs of Spain’s midfielders and let Koke and Thiago roam around the final third, taking Insigne and Florenzi on a wild goose chase. But the first player to sever the Italian lines was Morata who jinked past Caldirola, raced to the by-line then sent over an inviting cross which left Thiago needing only to guide the ball past Bardi with a free header.
It was just the start Lopetegui had hoped for and from that moment on, his side didn’t look back. But Italy, at any level, have never been just a group of players with blue shirts on – a long ball was played over the top, catching Iñigo Martínez off-guard and Ciro Immobile required just one touch to bring the ball down before getting the better of De Gea with a delicate chip to level the score. The Spain keeper denied Borini from putting Italy ahead in a one-on-one then somehow blocked a goal-bound volley from Florenzi. Lopetegui’s troops showed great personality in their response – Illaramendi and Koke began to conduct the ball out of Spain’s half with criteria while Thiago hovered where he is at his most lethal – in the rival area,
With the score level, Spain’s quality began to shine through. There were touches of skill from Morata and Koke who, came close to restoring the lead with an improvised back heel. The Atlético midfielder then delivered a precision cross for Thiago to chest down and blast Spain back in front with a shot of such power that it could have scythed the keeper in two.
Spain gained a vital psychological edge by making it 3-1 just before half-time. Donati inadvertently clipped Tello and match official Matej Jug pointed straight to the penalty spot. Thiago’s kick had Bardi flinging himself in the wrong direction and brought up his hat trick.
Italy had no option but to take risks to try to get back into contention in the second period and that resulted in spaces opening out in their rearguard. Spaces which Tello and Thiago were only too willing to exploit. On one such occasion, Montoya found himself with a clear run on goal only to be brought down by Bianchetti. Isco tucked in the resulting spot-kick and although Borini pulled a goal back for Italy with 10 minutes of regulation time left, nothing could stop the euphoric Spaniards from marching to victory. Spain collect their fourth Under-21 trophy and now need only to win it once more to equal the record for wins in this tournament, currently held by the nation they saw off in Israel tonight – Italy.