Even on another night of glorious combination football from Spain, it was the individual triumph of Thiago Alcantara which won their second consecutive European Under-21 Championship.
Spain played with all their famous imagination and style to beat Italy 4-2 in Jerusalem, retaining their U-21 title. They produced some wonderful moves, but it was built around a remarkable captain’s performance from Barcelona midfielder Thiago, who scored a first-half hat-trick. Spain were 3-1 up at half-time and could have scored more in the second-half than they did.
Thiago, who is an occasional rather than regular starter for Barcelona, is thought to be a target for Manchester United and he made immediately obvious, if he had not before, that he was a player of the highest class and nerve.
It only took five minutes for Thiago to finish one of Spain’s first flowing moves. It started, as most of their play did, with Asier Illarramendi, who sprayed the ball to the left. Koke found Isco who found Alvaro Morata. The big centre-forward spun down the inside-left channel, reached the by-line and pulled back a far-post cross which Thiago headed in.
Italy swiftly responded on the break, Ciro Immobile running onto a long pass and lobbing David De Gea, but Spain superiority was then instantly and irreversibly asserted.
Spain started to press harder and faster and started to create more chances. Francesco Bardi saved from Morata and Koke before Thiago scored his second. Koke had the ball on the left and clipped a perfect pass to Thiago, who chested down the ball and struck it through Bardi’s legs with his left.
Five minutes later, Thiago scored his third. Cristian Tello, the Barcelona winger, burst down the left and was brought down in the box by Giulio Donati’s lunge. Thiago took the penalty hard down the middle for his hat-trick.
There was no slowing down in the second half and Bardi – who played as well as he possibly could have done - saved from Thiago and Tello before the fourth. Right-back Martin Montoya was tripped by Vasco Regini in the box, and this time Isco, before yesterday Spain’s leading player, scored his third of the tournament.
Spain should have been well clear but Liverpool’s Fabio Borini pulled one back with 10 minutes left, playing a sharp one-two with Lorenzo Insigne and scoring powerfully into the far bottom corner from 20 yards. It was a good goal, certainly, but it was nowhere near enough.
Spain (4-3-3) De Gea; Montoya, Bartra, Martinez, Moreno; Koke (Camacho, 86), Illarramendi, Thiago; Tello (Muniain, 71), Morata (Rodrigo, 80), Isco
Italy (4-4-2) Bardi; Donati, Bianchetti, Caldirola, Regini; Florenzi (Saponara, 58), Rossi, Verratti (Crimi, 76), Insigne; Borini, Immobile (Gabbiadini, 58)
Man of the Match Thiago
Match rating 8