Surging Spaniards set for Norway; Italians, Dutch duel

Spain looks to secure spot in European Under-21 Championship final and defend its title.

June 14, 2013 02:13
2 minute read.
Spanish team celebrates goal against Netherlands

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 final.

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 a game.

“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 players.”

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 anybody.”

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,” Pot said.

“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.”

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