Semi-final round-up: UEFA Under-21 European Championships

Spain 3-0 Norway

Defending champions Spain put three past a spirited Norway side to cruise into Tuesday night’s final.

Goals from strikers Rodrigo Moreno and Alvaro Morata, as well as a sublime second from the outstanding Isco, were enough to stride past Norway – who failed to force goalkeeper David de Gea into making any saves.

Not surprisingly, Spain began the game on top and almost took a spectacular lead after just seven minutes when Malaga midfielder Isco ducked inside a couple of defenders on the edge of the box and sent one wide of Orjan Hyland’s post.

Isco then turned provider, threading Cristian Tello in on goal only for the Barcelona winger to clip one right at Nyland. Spain were dominating the game with Isco running the show, and the superlative attacker almost went one better than his earlier effort when he spun Stefan Johansen with ease and forced another save from the impressive Nyland.

Nyland was single-handedly keeping his side in the game, and produced his best yet when he parried out Martin Montoya’s drive to Rodrigo, but somehow tipped an effort from the Benfica striker – preferred to the tournament’s top scorer Morata – onto his upright.

Spain were relentless in their assault on Nyland’s goal and when a corner found its way to Asier Illarramendi – one of the competition’s outstanding players so far – the Real Sociedad midfielder thundered one goalwards, taking a deflection on its way through but still saved well by Nyland.

Best of the best: Isco turned in a fine performance again for La Rojita.
Best of the best: Isco turned in a fine performance again for La Rojita.

Nyland looked invincible, although Rodrigo had other ideas just before the break. A poorly defended corner was headed back towards goal by Marc Bartra and Rodrigo’s predatory instincts served him well when he flicked into Nyland’s far corner for his first goal of the tournament.

The goal had deflated Norway, yet they started the second half on top and almost procured an equaliser when a well-worked move initiated by a clever-back heel from substitute Havard Nielsen ended with Markus Henriksen’s shot being deflected behind by Illarramendi.

The second-half was all but a stalemate for the most part, and Norway sniffed out a chance to equalise with a free-kick after 85 minutes. Vegar Hedenstad whipped a curling delivery to the back post, where captain Stefan Strandberg could only direct off target.

Yet for all their determined efforts, the gulf in class shone through with a piece of individual brilliance late on. Morata laid on for Isco on the edge of the area, and the rising star dummied past Havard Nordtveit effortlessly, before nonchalantly poking into the top corner with the outside of his boot. The tournament’s outstanding player had scored one of the tournament’s outstanding goals, but Spain weren’t done there.

Morata, already with three in three to his name in Israel, charged away from Strandberg and when his first effort was blocked by the outrushing Nyland, the Real Madrid striker collected once more and curled in his fourth in as many games from the tightest of angles.

Spain are the reigning champions for a reason, and will have the chance to defend their title in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

 

Italy 1-0 Netherlands

Devis Mangia’s Italy side edged a tight affair against the Netherlands to book their place in the final after a solitary goal on the night.

Fabio Borini netted the only goal of the tie with 15 minutes to go to shade a hotly contested tie with tempers flaring on occasions.

Holland took control early on with Cor Pot selecting the same full strength starting eleven that won the first two group games so impressively, with captain Kevin Strootman taking charge of the midfield.

But it was his fellow midfielder Adam Maher, the glittering AZ Alkmaar talent, who had the first chance of the game after three minutes. Marco Verratti – the final third of the tournament’s best midfielders alongside Maher and Isco – gifted Holland a free-kick for handball, and Maher stepped up to curl a beautifully struck set-piece against the frame of Jeron Zoet’s goal.

The Dutch remained in the ascendancy for much of the first half and had Italy under pressure for long spells, one of which ended with Georginio Wijnaldum’s delivery evading both Luuk de Jong and Ola John at the back post, while another saw the exciting Strootman’s cross-cum-shot sail past de Jong in the box.

Italy had still failed to muster a shot on goal after 25 minutes, but a fine counter led by the returning Lorenzo Insigne almost proved fruitful. Insigne exchanged passes with Ciro Immobile, before the latter charged forward purposefully and shot at Zoet to force a save.

Daley Blind threatened next for Holland, with the Ajax left-back blasting a forceful drive which was parried out by Francesco Bardi, before Strootman’s volley cannoned back off Italy skipped Luca Caldirola.

Hard work pays off: Borini's goal sets up a final showdown with Spain.
Hard work pays off: Borini’s goal sets up a final showdown with Spain.

And Borini had his first sight of goal not long after, racing forward on the shoulder of Bruno Martins Indi before shooting into the side netting.

There was no doubt about which side had controlled the first half, and the Dutch started the second in the same way by stroking around fluidly in midfield. Borini and de Jong took it in turns to shoot wide, before substitute Memphis Depay almost executed a neat one-two with de Jong, but the Borussia Mönchengladbach striker’s return was behind Depay.

Borini had begun to work his way into the game, with Immobile withdrawn for Manolo Gabbiadini rather than him, and a great challenge by Strootman ended him bearing down on goal.

But a minute later his work paid off, with Insigne passing into his feet for the Liverpool striker to turn away from Mike van der Hoorn and slip a finish underneath Zoet to give the Azzurini the lead.

Italy withstood late Dutch pressure, including chances for Depay and Leroy Fer, but held on to secure a place in the final and a showdown against Spain on Tuesday.

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