Spanish team celebrates goal against Netherlands 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defending-champion Spain enters its European Under-21 Championship semifinal
versus Norway on Saturday as a firm favorite before Italy faces the Netherlands
in what seems likes a far more evenly balanced encounter for a place in the
Spain is the only team to have won all three of its groups matches
in Israel, beating the Netherlands 3-0 on Wednesday.
Not only did the
Spaniards clinch first place in Group B, but coach Julen Lopetegui also made
seven changes to his starting lineup, meaning he will have a well rested squad
for Saturday’s showdown in Netanya.
“I’m satisfied with the effort, the
character, and the attitude of our whole group,” said Lopetegui. “We had seven
changes against the Netherlands, and were lucky to be able to give other players
“This tournament is very hard, each match is different. I am sure
we’ll not have it easy in the next game. I think Norway have a very strong team,
they are physically and tactically strong and technically too they’re good
Norway has already exceeded expectations by simply reaching the
semifinals, but defender Stefan Strandberg is confident his team can record an
upset against Spain.
“It’s a big achievement for Norway to reach the last
four,” he said. “I think Italy has around 60 million people while we are four or
five million so it’s a big achievement for us. We’re going to meet Spain, so
it’s going to be a really tough game, but if we have a good day we can beat
Dutch coach Cor Pot changed his entire lineup against Spain
after his team already secured its progress to the last four with wins in its
first two matches.
He can’t wait to see how his team handles the
challenge of Italy in Petah Tikva.
“We chose to give the first team a
rest because otherwise we would have had one day less than Italy to prepare,”
“Unfortunately, it was 3-0 – a big defeat. A 1-0 or 2-0 would
have been better but we’re not too down. Italy is a strong team and it’ll be an
interesting game but I’m not afraid of Italy.”
After an impressive
showing in the group stage, Italy midfielder Andrea Bertolacci is extremely
optimistic ahead of the semis.
“We have to think about our own game, and
show no fear,” said Bertolacci.
“With the determination and hunger we
have shown we can achieve our goal. Holland will know they will be facing a
great team. We know what we need to do to achieve our goal.”