Spain beats Italy to win Euro Under-21 final
JERUSALEM -- Thiago Alcantara scored a first-half hat trick as Spain turned on the style to beat Italy 4-2 on Tuesday and win the European Under-21 championship for a second consecutive time.
Italy started as the brighter side at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium but the Spanish players, captained by Thiago, soon gained control and took the lead after just six minutes.
They never looked back.
Spain's Under21s went on to retain their title, just as the senior side had retained its title as European champions in 2012 - and now hopes to repeat the same feat at next year's World Cup in Brazil.
"We are very happy now, not only with the win but also with the performance and the personality we showed. We are very proud of this,'' Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said. "We are very proud of this.''
"We think the most important thing is the players' belief in the team. They have quality but if they don't believe in the team it's very difficult.''
Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata stormed past the Italy defenders down the left and Thiago headed home from close range. Italy hit back four minutes later when Ciro Immobile chipped over flailing Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea.
But 15 minutes before the interval, Thiago restored Spain's lead after chesting down a cross by Koke.
The Barcelona midfielder brought up his hat trick in the 38th minute, this time from the penalty spot after Giulio Donati brought down Christian Tello in the box.
Italy appeared to have regained its composure after the break and Lorenzo Insigne created a pair of opportunities in the first five minutes, including an Alessandro Florenzi half volley which flew just over the crossbar.
At the other end, Isco went close for Spain, ending a good move with a close range effort which zipped past the post.
Italy coach Devis Mangia tried to spice things up by bringing on two players who had scored in previous games - Riccardo Saponara and Manolo Gabbiadini. But Isco put the result beyond doubt in the 66th minute with another penalty after Vasco Regini brought down Martin Montoya.
Fabio Borini pulled one back for Italy in the 80th minute, but there was no real chance of turning the game around.
"I am really proud to be coach of this team,'' Mangia said. "Until the final second, my team tried to win the match. I think my players' only mistake - not a fault of theirs - was their lack of experience. In matches like this you need experience and they lacked the experience of the Spanish players.''