European Under-21 Championships – Thiago crucial to Spain’s trophy hope

Spain take on Italy in the final of the European Under-21 Championships in Israel on Tuesday night and La Roja’s players are dreaming of defending their crown. Italy are happy as the underdogs, according to the managers, but if Italy are entertaining real aspirations of taking the title off the holders then they will have to put a stop to Spain’s marauding midfielder Thiago Alacantra.

The Spaniards are favourites to defend the trophy and they have been superb so far this tournament, scoring eight goals, but more impressively, they are yet to concede in the competition. However, Thiago is taking no chances: “We can only wait and see what happens on the pitch. Certainly we will study the opposition, so that we know how to approach the game and how to win it.

Thiago also believes that his side’s style of play will win out in the end: “We are faithful to our style of playing, it is always nice to reach the highest level that way. We all have to keep the ball and have the desire to play from the goalkeeper to the forwards. The way we play is what makes this such a harmonious group.

Captain Thiago has an already bulging trophy collection, which includes four La Liga honours and a Champions League winners’ medal, though he still eyes this tournament as a massive prize, calling a possible win in the final “unbelievable.” He is relishing the role of captain in this squad and has played all but 10 minutes of his side’s tournament so far.

Spain coach Julen Lupetegui would seem to emphasise the stance of his captain as he has called for his troops to be “one united team” ahead of the final. He added: “Italy are a very difficult team to play against, they have good defensive qualities and are also a physical team who play good tactics. We will have to play as one united team in the final.

Lupetegui has been happy with his team’s performance in the tournament so far, but, like Thiago, he feels that the job is not done yet: “Italy do not only defend, they can attack too. They have attacking qualities and can create chances. They have a lot of strong defensive players, but they have a lot of attacking potential as well. They are a good team but we still have our quality and are playing well.”

Italy Coach Devis Mangia has said that his team are happy to play under the label of underdogs: “Spain have a great team and I don’t mind if they are favourites,” he said. Mangia and his squad have been boosted by the news that Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne has shook off an ankle injury that made him a doubt before their semi-final against the Netherlands, and Insigne is one of the danger men Spain must be wary of.

Spain on the other hand are keeping a close eye on Igancio Camacho, who is undergoing tests on a left ankle complaint, but Coach Lupetegui is said to be confident the midfielder will be fit.

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