Spain wins UEFA under 21 championship 150.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Spain's stranglehold over European soccer doesn’t look like it will be ending any time soon after the Under-21 national team emulated the senior side by winning a second straight European Championship title on Tuesday night, outclassing Italy 4-2 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
The Spaniards entered the tournament in Israel as a firm favorite and lived up to their billing throughout the campaign, becoming the first team since the competition adopted a final tournament group stage format in 2000 to have lifted the trophy after winning every single game.
A first-half hat-trick by Thiago Alcantara (6, 31, 38) effectively decided the final by halftime, with Ciro Immobile (10) initially bringing Italy back on level terms. Isco (66) ensured the Spain juniors scored four goals just as their senior counterparts did against Italy in the Euro 2012 final and Fabio Borini's (80) late strike was of little consolation for the Italians.
The 29,320 fans in Jerusalem didn’t have to wait long for the first goal of the night. After scoring one goal in each of Spain's previous four matches, Alvaro Morata, starting only for the second time in the tournament, turned provider on Tuesday, bursting down the left flank in the sixth minute before accurately powering the ball to the unmarked Thiago for an easy header.
Spain got off to the perfect start, but Italy wasn’t discouraged and equalized just four minutes later.
Matteo Bianchetti sliced the Spanish defense with a delightful pass and Immobile brought it down beautifully before calmly lofting the ball over David de Gea, who hadn’t conceded a goal in the tournament until that stage.
Italy squandered a tantalizing opportunity to put Spain under real pressure in the 25th minute, with Alessandro Florenzi lifting the ball over his marker before firing a powerful volley at goal, only to be denied by an instinctive save from the Manchester United goalkeeper.
Six minutes later Spain was back in front, with Thiago receiving the ball in between two defenders before firing into the back of the net, despite 'keeper Francesco Bardi's best efforts.
The contest was as good as over seven minutes from the break, with Thiago completing his hat-trick.
Giulio Donati tripped Cristian Tello in the box and Thiago converted the penalty to put Spain in a commanding position.
Any lingering hope Italy may have had of mounting a comeback ended in the 64th minute. Martin Montoya was brought down in the area by Vasco Regini and Isco stepped up to send the 'keeper the wrong way.
Fabio Borini scored a second goal for Italy in the 80th minute to add some respectability to the final score, but nothing was going to deny Spain a perfect ending to a remarkable tournament and yet another fully deserved triumph.