Spain will head into Tuesday’s final with a chance to retain their Under-21 European crown. In their way will be an Italy side who shocked a domintant Dutch side into a 1-0 defeat. Here’s Sam Braik and Will Burns with all the action.
SPAIN 3-0 NORWAY
The Spanish population have yet another international football final to look forward to, as Spain cruised past their Norwegian counterparts with a comfortable 3-0 victory in the semi-final of the U21 European Championship.
After the holders spectacular opening 45 minutes, most realised that Norway never stood a real chance. The Spanish started brightly and could have been ahead twice through Isco in the opening 20 minutes. The Malaga midfielder fired inches wide as he created space for himself on the edge of the Norway area before curling his effort just wide just after the ten minute mark, before the star, linked with Manchester City, was denied yet again minutes later after being played through by Cristian Tello. Isco gathered the ball in his stride, evaded his marker like he wasn’t even there and fired a shot on the spin. Orjan Nyland Haskjold in the Norway goal was equal to it, producing a stunning one-handed save to tip the ball away.
Norway’s ‘keeper had to be on top form in the opening half as shot after shot was saved by the Molde shot-stopper. He produced a fine stop from Tello after Isco had set-up the Barcelona forward, diving low to divert the effort around the post before moments later a superb double stop from an initial Martin Montoya effort, before reacting instantaneously in order to prevent Rodrigo’s point-blank effort from nestling in the back of the net.
The Spanish were soon frustrated further, when Fredrik Semb Berge appeared to make contact with Marc Bartra after a clumsy tackle in the Norwegian area. However, to the anger of Spain, it was the Barcelona centre-back who was penalised for diving and subsequently booked.
Spain were completely dominating proceedings, and eventually that pressure told as Rodrigo edged his country ahead right on the stroke of half-time. A corner was whipped into the Norway area before being headed straight into the air. As pandemonium ensued as numerous players waited for the ball to drop, it was Bartra who rose highest to cushion his header into the path of the Benfica forward. Rodrigo produced a sublime outside-of-the-foot finish to finally beat the stubborn Norweigian cudtodian.
Following the break though, Norway looked a different side as first Markus Henriksen went close, before Stefan Standberg thad two chances to draw his side level from set pieces. The centre-back powered his header over the bar from a corner when he should have done much better, and the Scandinavian side should’ve drawn level minutes later as Standberg fired wide after the ball landed at his feet in the Spanish area following a free kick.
However, Norway were left to rue those misses; just three minutes from time Isco confirmed Spain’s place in the final with a stunning effort that had the crowds in shocked awe. The Malaga ace danced through numerous challenges before caressing his effort into the top right corner. Spain wrapped up the win and their place in the final in injury time as substitute Alvaro Morata added a well-taken third. The Real Madrid forward left the defence in his wake after showing a good turn of pace, skipped around Nyland Haskjold before slipping the ball home from a tight angle to break Norwegian hearts. The Spanish war machine goes on and the question on everyone’s lips must be asked:
What country can stop them?
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ITALY 1-0 NETHERLANDS
Italy defeated the Jong Oranje 1-0 on Saturday evening to set up a Under-21 Euro final with defending champions Spain on Tuesday.
A 79th minute winner from Fabio Borini earned the Italians the championship game with Spain, who earlier that evening eliminated Norway 3-0 to reach the final and try to retain their title.
The Dutch dominated possession from the off but failed to make that breakthrough past goalkeeper Francesco Bardi. The creativity and the final product was not there, Ola John looked leggy, midfield duo Marco van Ginkel and Adam Maher were non-existent and Luuk de Jong was left alone up top starved of any service.
It was a slow paced first 45 minutes, and both pressuring each other high up the pitch – Italy using the counter attack very well. The Dutch looked more likely to score due to the tremendous possession play and they could have been 1-0 up after just five minutes.
Marco Verratti brought down Georginio Wijnaldum on the edge of the penalty area and Maher took the resulting free-kick and the lucky Bardi was stuck to his line as he watched the ball hit the outside of his left post.
Cor Pot’s men were applying some force and won a string of corners but Bardi was able to deal with them all before the strong Kevin Strootman fired a power shot wide from distance.
Italy could themselves be a goal in front midway through the half if it were not for Jeroen Zoet in goal. Ciro Immobile then brought a save out of goalkeeper, with Zoet stopping his shot with his feet before the sharp Lorenzo Insigne fired wide from 25 yards.
Ajax left-back Daley Blind found himself attacking the edge of the box and he forced Bardi into a smart parry as the interval approached and but it was the Italians who should have went into the break a goal to the good.
Liverpool striker Borini collected the ball midway into his own half and continues into the penalty area but could only fire into the side-netting after bearing down on Zoet. The Azzurrini continued to miss several chances to take the lead, with a Manolo Gabbiadini attempt on goal in the 74th minute landing neatly in the arms of Zoet.
As the second half continued it proved to be incredibly cautious as both teams became weary of the either sides attacking threat. The Dutch received a blow when Stefan de Vrij had to be replaced by FC Utrecht powerhouse Mike van der Hoorn on 75 minutes due to a knee injury to the Feyenoord defender.
And unfortunately for Van der Hoorn, his mistake let Italy score the opener. Insigne showed smart feet to beat his man on the edge of the box and played the ball in to Borini who caught Van der Hoorn flat footed. Borini’s next two touches with his right foot gained an advantage on the stranded defender to get on his preferred side and the Liverpool man slotted past Zoet into the far corner.
Holland brought on some much needed attacking threat with Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay and Fer should have equalised in the 89th minute.
Maher delivered a corner and the leaping Fer jumped higher than everyone to connect to the swinging ball but he could only head straight into Bardi’s hands.
It was a disappointing end to Pot’s reign, who decided to step down after this tournament. His team were defeated by a team that they should have swept away with a far superior squad of players with international experience.
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