UEFA Under-21 Championship - Final Day Review – Spain juggernaut carries on
Spain continued their domination of European football by clinching a third UEFA Under-21 championship with a comfortable victory over Switzerland in the final on Saturday.
The victory saw Spain add this crown to the European Championship and World Cup won by their seniors over the last three years, with two members of the Spanish squad, skipper Javi Martinez and Juan Mata, adding this medal to the World Cup one they earned in Soccer City last July.
As they had done throughout the tournament, Spain dominated possession and were far too good for a Swiss side whose defence had not been breached in the four previous matches they had played in the finals.
The opening exchanges resembled a chess match, with the Spanish probing, while the Swiss pressed trying to get Spain to play their football in their own half. Switzerland in fact had the first real chance of the game, as the Spanish defence failed to deal with a long throw into their penalty area, Xherden Shaquiri striking a shot which forced Manchester United target David De Gea to punch over the bar.
That close shave seemed to spur the Spaniards on, and their patient possession began to acquire more of a cutting edge. Thiago Alcantara went close with a low raking shot from 20 yards in the 36th minute. Four minutes later Spain took the lead with a goal of real quality.
Midfield maestro Mata fed the ball to left back Vila Didac, whose superb first time cross was met by the head of Ander Herrera, thumping the ball into the net from eight yards out to send the tournament favourites into the interval with a deserved lead.
Switzerland had to chase the game, and made changes to their forward line in the opening moments of the second half as they looked for the correct combination to unlock the Spanish defence. However the introduction of Amir Abrashi and Mario Gavronovic had no real impact.
The Swiss did have a period of pressure with around fifteen minutes to go as they attempted to capitalise on Spain’s weakness at defending set-pieces. Two quality deliveries by Shaquiri from wide areas caused problems, but a lack of composure cost Switzerland dear. Firstly Admir Mehmedi and Abrashi got in each other’s way as they attempted to latch on to a flick on by Rossini. Then Timm Klose did get a clean header to the second of Shaquiri’s free kicks, but could only glance the ball past the post.
The title was secured moments later with a goal of exquisite quality and invention which summed up the class of the Spanish side. With the entrance of Jeffren as a substitute being completed, the referee blew his whistle to allow Spain to restart the game with a free kick. Quickly assessing that Swiss keeper Yann Sommer was distracted and off his line, Thiago drilled a 45 yard effort over the head of the retreating keeper to double Spain’s lead and clinch the trophy.
Earlier in the day, Belarus won the third place play-off with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic. Yegor Fillipenko’s 88th minute strike clinched the victory which earned the Belarusians a place in next summer’s Olympic Games.