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Portugal 1-3 Spain: U-21 European Championship Review

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Spain win early battle of European giants

A blockbuster group-stage match ended in a 3-1 victory for the Spaniards in rather impressive fashion. Spain took a 2-0 lead in the second half before Portugal pulled one back with just 15 minutes to play. The result was never in doubt though, as Inaki Williams scored Spain’s third right before full time.

There were two changes for the Spanish team with Dani Ceballos replacing Denis Suarez, and Jonny replacing Jose Gaya. While many felt as though Deulofeu should have been dropped, he is a captain of the team, and therefore that solution is not feasible.

First Half

Ceballos’ insertion was felt immediately, as he drew a yellow card from Portugal’s Ruben Neves within minutes of kickoff. This continued in the opening 10 minutes, as Ceballos was lively and combining well with teammates.

The first big chance of the match fell to Portugal, when Daniel Podence made room right on the edge of the box. His shot hit the inside of the post, and ultimately bounced away harmlessly. While this was their only big chance of the match so far, it was symbolic of the dominance the Portuguese enjoyed throughout the opening 15 minutes.

The next five minutes, however, was full of Spanish possession. A wonderful dribbling run from Saul that began on the right wing ended in a well placed shot for the opener. Despite being on the back foot for 75% of the match Spain led through a moment of brilliance.

Saul and Llorente started to dominate the game. Winning back possession over and over again while assisting in the build-up at the same time. Ceballos continued his flare, while Sandro and Deulofeu wasted possession on multiple occasions.

The next big chance of the match fell to Spain on a deadly counter attack. A wonderful final ball from Asensio was wasted by Bellerin and the score remained 0-1 in favour of Spain. Just minutes later, Asensio created another massive chance on the edge of the box for Sandro Ramirez, but once again it was wasted.

Second Half

At the start of the half there were two big chances for both sides. Podence wiggled his way through again close to the six-yard-box before firing wide, while Marco Asensio had his shot blocked off the goal-line.

The game became rather sloppy, with neither team having a semblance of control from open play. This resulted in a wide-open game that favoured Spain’s attacking quality.

Asensio began dropping deeper and acting almost as a fourth midfielder. This gave the Spaniards better control over the match. Eventually they capitalized on this control as Deulofeu sent in a low cross that Sandro finished near post for the two-goal cushion.

Just when Spain were about to enter cruise control, Bruma conjured up a spark of world class quality, hitting a disgusting volley from outside the box to cut the deficit in half. It seemed the best match of the tournament up to this point was in for a nervy finish.

However, Portugal didn’t seriously threaten Spain again, and an Iñaki Williams goal only sealed the result for La Roja. The result means they are the first side in the competition to qualify for the semi-finals.

Thoughts and Observations

One thing that stuck out throughout the match was Asensio’s chemistry with Dani Ceballos. If this post-game picture was any indication, Madrid players have a strong relationship with Ceballos, and that bond was evident on the pitch. Whether this could play a role in a potential transfer this summer remains to be seen.

There were many strong performers Tuesday night, however, Deulofeu and Bellerin were not some of them. They not only wasted chances, but also wasted possession countless times, and Bellerin most notably wasted Marco Asensio’s brilliant pass right in front of goal. Bellerin is still the team’s best right-back, but Deulofeu should be swapped for Iñaki Williams if this team is to reach its full potential.

Jesus Vallejo. You get the feeling watching this kid that he will be the best ball-playing Centre-back on the planet one day. As I said the other day, oozes confidence, and makes either darting runs through the midfield, or pinpoint passes look easy. Madrid made the right decision bringing him back, and it is only a matter of time before he is a full time starter.

Spain will play Serbia in its final group stage match this Friday.