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Serbia 0 - 1 Spain: U-21 European Championship Review

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Spain finish top of Group B, going unbeaten in the process

Spain’s final group stage match ended similarly to their previous two: Victoriously. While not their best performance, a goal from Denis Suarez, and aid from a Serbian Red card helped Spain remain unbeaten in the tournament.

In order to prepare for the already-clinched knockout rounds, Spain rotated heavily for their final group stage match against Serbia. Real Madrid players Asensio, Vallejo, and Llorente exited the side while Borja Mayoral was given a run up top.

First Half

The first 15 minutes of the half had essentially no action whatsoever. After the early dry spell, the first chance of the match fell to Serbia, when their striker was sent through but didn’t quite have the angle to beat Pau.

Just minutes later Carlos Soler was gifted an even better chance for the opener. Despite being one-on-one with the keeper, he took too much time with his shot and the biggest chance for the match’s opening goal was lost.

Spain continued to struggle to get a foothold on the match, and gave Serbia another quality chance at around the 20-minute mark. The Serbian attacker was too unselfish, and tried to square the ball to his teammate, but after his teammate failed to control the chance, Serbia were left to rue their poor decision-making.

A decent combination led to Denis Suarez moving beyond the defense, but similar to Serbia’s first chance was too wide to cause any real damage. This Spanish team had yet to show the same bite and clinical finishing that they did in the first two matches of the tournament, and up to this point the match was a real stinker.

Although they struggled to create anything of substance up this point, in the 37th minute of the match, a wonderful combination between Iñaki Williams and Odriozola led to a cross from the right wing that Denis Suarez buried for the opener. Less than a minute after the kickoff, Spain had a golden chance to make it 2-0. A beautiful cross from the left wing was somehow hit over the goal by Carlos Soler.

The sudden energy of the match continued when Djurdjevic was given a second yellow for elbowing a Spanish player during an aerial duel. This was the last major action of the half, but Spanish victory seemed all but inevitable yet again.

Second Half

With the lead and an extra man, Spain started the second half on the front foot. A wonderful run from Odriozola leading to a mishit header by Iñaki Williams, and a beautiful Carlos Soler pass to Iñaki highlighted their early dominance, but lacked the necessary end product to pull away.

Carlos Soler really began to dictate the tempo of the match here, showcasing his high class dribbling and passing ability. Spain had much more of the ball during this half and he was a big reason why.

In the 66th minute of the match Denis Suarez had a fine chance to make it 2-0 after good work from Spain. The Barcelona man had his shot saved, and Spain’s poor finishing on the night reared its ugly head again.

In the 74th minute Serbia were given their best chance to pull level. A good attacking move gave the Serbian winger enough space out wide, and while the ball to the central area was good, the defending was better, and so the attempt never went on target.

After Mayoral had gone close, Serbia refused to give up, and had one more chance before the match concluded. Unfortunately for the Serbians, the cross was poor, and the following shot was hit over the goal.

Final Thoughts and Observations

It was very nice seeing Mayoral play meaningful minutes again. After a disastrous loan at Wolfsburg seemed to seriously hurt his confidence and development, this next season will be crucial for his future. It was not a standout game for him, but then again he is not a true ‘number 9’, more of a second striker who can play from a deeper position. His next destination could decide the fate of his career, so Madrid better make sure that they nail this decision.

Spain’s semi-final is all but determined at this point. It will be Slovakia, The Czech Republic, or possibly even Italy. Since Italy has to play Germany, win, beat the Germans by tree goals or more, and earn a better Goal differential than the Czech Republic, they seem to be eliminated. The Czech Republic will have to win by three goals or more in order to qualify for the semi-finals. This makes Slovakia the front runner, as they have already earned six points, and already have a goal differential of +3 goals. If Portugal had won by three goals they would play England, with Germany facing Spain, but thankfully that situation was avoided.

Spain will have to play much better if they are to win this tournament. Even though this was largely their second team, they did not appear very focused at all. This must change as they enter the semi-finals. This team has enough individual quality that they may not have to even play well to win this tournament, however, a talented team such as Germany or England could catch them off-guard if they are not careful. Spain will play again Tuesday, June 27th.