Spain faced Norway in the under-21 Euro Championships, hoping to clinch their second successive spot in the final of the tournament, and after a run of impressive results, went to the match as clear favorites. Norway, on the other hand, was hoping to get to the final for the first time in its history in any UEFA competition by beating the favorites.
Spain’s lineup provided a few surprises; De Gea started on goal behind a defense line formed by Montoya, Iñigo Martinez, Marc Bartra, and Alberto Moreno. Captain Thiago Alcantara, Irrallamendi, and Koke formed the midfield as Isco was moved on the wing along with Cristian Tello and Rodrigo. Many also expected Real Madrid’s youngster Alvaro Morata to start, but the scorer of three cup goals was left on the bench.
Norway’s lineup was as expected; Nyland started on goal, Elabdellaoui, Rogne, Hedenstad, and Strandberg in defense with Singh, Johansen and Eikrem in the midfield. The forward line was in shape of Berget, Pedersen, and King.
As both teams started with a 4-3-3, Norway with two more defensive-minded midfielders, it was clear which team would take the control of the ball. As seen before in the tournament, Thiago played in a deeper role dictating the midfield, and Koke - who took Isco’s position - had more freedom to move forward. Isco also cut a lot inside from his wing as he usually does when playing in that position, which strengthened Spain’s midfield but also cut off some of the width they could have used to expose Norway’s solid defense. This left Spain a bit ineffective at times.
When attacking, Cristian Tello maintained width on his side but was constantly ineffective partly due to not playing in his preferred position, on the left, although he did occasionally switch positions with Isco. With Koke, Isco, and Thiago constantly moving around in the creative roles, Norway was in trouble with Spain’s attacking force through the middle from early on and barely managed to hurt the Spaniards with counter attacks.
Spain’s early and aggressive press made it difficult for Norway to exploit the space the wingback’s runs could have left in the defense. However, Spain didn’t ever really get close to the goal in good shooting positions; Norway packed the middle and looked solid defensively. At times, Spain, with Isco as a winger, even looked like 4-4-2 and lacked width because of that. Only Tello and Isco himself got relatively close to scoring, and Spain was constantly dangerous whenever the latter had the ball.
The deadlock was finally broken by Rodrigo after a messy corner-situation and the striker got to tap the ball in the net right before half-time. The goal was surely a turning point in the game and came at a perfect time for the Spaniards.
The second half wasn’t brilliant by Spain either, as Norway started to gain a little position and forced Spain to defend deeper; the underdogs even got a few decent shots from good positions. Spain, however, looked comfortable in possession and made some good substitutions. Alvaro Morata came on for Rodrigo on the 59th minute and constantly linked up well with Isco. Later, Muniain came on for Tello.
Spain looked rather comfortable in possession but 1-0 wasn’t enough. Isco scored a beauty for the Spaniards in the 87th minute to seal the victory after a link up play with the substitute Morata. And later on, Morata went on to add to his tally as he scored a late goal from a seemingly impossible angle to give Spain a deserved 3-0 victory with his 4th goal of the tournament.
Some statistics also show that Spain was a well deserving winner. Spain dominated 67% of possession, had a total of 26 shots of which 12 on target, had a total of 8 corners compared to Norway’s 4, and also had an impressive pass success rate of 92%.
Spain never looked too troubled in defense and managed to cut off Norway’s attacks by a good pressing game and a well shaped defense. The formation that forced Isco to an unfamiliar position saw Spain struggle a little with quick movement in the midfield, but despite tactical imperfections, some immense individual skill by Isco managed to turn the match in Spain’s favor. And speaking of Isco, there should be no question about the man of the match; the Malaga midfielder was by far the best on the pitch and a beautiful goal only highlighted his performance.
With 4 victories in 4 games and without a single goal conceded, Spain looks like a firm favorite for the final, and despite not being impressive for a full 90 minutes, they did just what they had to and earned a well-deserved spot in the European U21 Championship Final this Tuesday in Jerusalem.
Written by Jen Evelyn