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Spain 3-1 Italy: U-21 European Championship Semi-final Review

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A dominant second half sees Spain reach the final

Spain v Italy: Semi Final - 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

After watching a thrilling penalty shootout win for Germany in the first semi-final, Spain headed into battle against European giants Italy. After a relatively tame first half, the match exploded into life in the second, with Spain scoring 3 goals over the final 45 minutes of the match to see them through to the final.

As arguably the second most talented squad at the Euros, Italy lined up with its usual cast of high-quality Serie A talent in Donnarumma, Rugani, and Bernardeschi. After rotating nearly the entire starting XI against Serbia, Spain reverted back to its usual absurdly talented starters. Real Madrid players Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente, and Marco Asensio were among them, while potential Madridista Dani Ceballos would also open the game for La Roja.

First Half

The first opportunity came to Italy after an early spell of pressure. A shot from the wing was caught by Kepa in a very dangerous position. If the ball had been mishandled it probably would have been a goal. The pressure continued as Italy put a dangerous ball into the box that Bellerin cleared just before an Italian player could shoot on goal.

Spain began to grow into the game, with Llorente dominating the ball as Spain put its stamp on match. Llorente then played a lovely pass over the top, but Deulofeu mistimed his run ruining a big opportunity to get into space. This dominance from Llorente continued as a good run from Chiesa was ruined at the edge of the box by the Madridista, who then sprung a counter to Asensio.

Later in the half Saul played in a great ball to Bellerin who mis-controlled it and wasted a big chance in the box for Spain. On the other end Vallejo struggled to deal with an aerial battle, lost said battle, and the ball fell perfectly to Italy. The ensuing pass took a lucky deflection and fell to Pellegrini for a one-on-one but Kepa saved the first massive chance of the match.

In a perfect summarization of the first half, Sandro won a free kick. Deulofeu takes it instead of Asensio for some reason and then wastes a chance after another ball played in by Ceballos finds him right in front of goal.

Italy had a chance at the end of the half to make an impression on the scoresheet, but the shot was weak and ultimately the match went into half-time 0-0.

Second Half

It took less than ten minutes into the second for a team to finally break the deadlock. A wonderful run and pass from Ceballos broke the Italian defense, leading to a beautiful Saul touch and goal for the opener.

Italy fought back, however, and after a nice ball from Bernardeschi was misread by Bellerin, they nearly equalized right away. The chance was wasted, and they remained a goal down. This would prove to be a huge miss for Italy, because just minutes later Gagliardini was sent off for a second yellow card after Ceballos skinned yet another poor soul.

Soon after, Deulofeu wasted yet another chance for Spain with poor decision making. All of these missed chances add up, and eventually you will pay if you don’t bury them. Bernardeschi caught Spain in a lull and his shot from outside of the box deflected off Vallejo’s foot to equalize. The game was back on.

Forced to respond, Spain turned to their leader Saul Niguez for a response. The former Real Madrid youth academy member responded with one of the best goals of the tournament, ripping a long shot into the top right corner.

A mind-bending run from Ceballos nearly broke the Italian defense again, however, once again the chance was wasted by Deulofeu. Minutes later a wonderful cross from Asensio was nearly met by Sandro, agonizingly close to his foot for the third. The Spanish pressure would not stop, as Asensio picked the defenders pocket before firing just wide.

It took only three more minutes for the Spaniards to find the dagger. Another Asensio run down the left wing led to a perfect cutback to Saul to complete his hat trick. Italy were well and truly out now, and there was nothing really of note for the remainder of the match as Spain held possession, content with their lead.

Final Thoughts and Observations

I want to say this in the most unbiased way possible: La Masia products are the weakest links in this team. Bellerin has his moments, but makes dumb decisions in his own half. Sandro might not deserve this criticism because he works hard and puts himself in good spots, but there are large portions of matches where he just totally disappears. Don’t even get me started on the so-called ‘captain’ Deulofeu. Whether it was wasting chances or killing attacks in the final third, the winger was atrocious in every facet. You’d expect him to kill an attack every time he touched the ball as if it was clockwork.

That Ceballos guy is pretty good. What a player he is seriously. I want him at Madrid terribly, whether it’s a buy and loan deal or whatever, he deserves to play at Real Madrid. His buyout clause at 15 million is still criminally low, and Real Madrid would be fools not to activate it. His play in midfield was essential in breaking down Italy, and was the second best player on the pitch behind the hat-trick hero Saul.

Speaking of Saul, what a shame it is that he got away from Real Madrid. A former youth product left the club at an early age only to join our cross-town rivals. Imagine being able to choose between Saul, Llorente, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, and Kovacic in the center of the park. It would be somehow even more absurd than our current situation.

Spain will be heavy favourites when they take on the Germans in the final this Friday.

Finals Prediction: 3-1 Spain over Germany