KEIR RADNEDGE in NETANYA: Spain’s youngsters at the UEFA European Under-21 finals can match the achievement of their seniors by retaining their crown next week.
On Tuesday in Jerusalem they will be clear favourites to see off Italy after a 3-0 dismissal of Norway by the seaside in Netanya. The Azzurrini reached the final themselves by defeating Holland 1-0 in Petah Tikva with a 78th-minute goal from Fabio Borini.
Spain’s marksmen against Norway were Rodrigo just on half-time, Isco (87min) and substitute Alvaro Morata (90). The margin would have been wider but for the superb resistance of Norwaygoalkeeper Orjan Nyland Haskjold.
At one stage in the first half he appeared to be playing Spain single-handed, flying in all directions for fine saves which earned admiring words from Spain coach Julen Lopetegui, himself a former international goalkeeper.
Lopetegui said: “Even though the score was 3-0 in the end this was a very difficult game against a very good team. We had a lot of chances to get more goals in the first half but the Norway goalkeeper was very good and saved two or three goals.
“Norway have a big heart but they also have a quality and physically and tactically they have been one of the strongest teams in this tournament – as they showed today.
“In the final it will be very difficult again. Hopefully we score the first goal a little earlier.”
Spain won the under-21s in 2011 as well as the senior European crowns in 2008 and 2012 plus, of course, the World Cup inbetween. To add to the sense of deja vu, they defeated Italy in the final of Euro 2012 in Kiev last year.
Norway entered the tournament as rank outsiders but took opponents by surprise with the commitment of their players – including senior internationals – plus a more technical style than in years gone by.
Those opponents had included England whom Norway beat 3-1 in the group stage. Coach Ole Skullerud said the memory of that victory would be one of his proudest memories of the finals once he had shaken off the disappointment of semi-final defeat.