Two years on from their final heartbreak at the same Championships in Poland, Spain exacted revenge on Germany to earn the European U21 title for the fifth time â” matching the record held by this years hosts Italy in the process.
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The 2-1 victory in Udine on Sunday night was La Roja’s fourth consecutive win at the tournament having been staring at an early exit just 11 days previous. Having lost their opening match to the Azzurri, Spain were heading for a draw against Belgium which would have seen them eliminated only for an 89th minute Pablo Fornals winner to offer them hope.
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Spain didn’t look back from that point and unsurprisingly are represented by multiple players in our team of the tournament, where they are joined by players from as many as six other nations. We run through the best XI of those to start at least three matches over the past fortnight.
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Goalkeeper: Daniel Iversen (Denmark) â” 7.14 rating
Having spent last season on loan at League Two Oldham, Iversen capped off a first campaign in senior football with a strong showing in Italy. The 21-year-old will hope that his performances â” having produced 13 saves in three group stage matches â” will have impressed parent club Leicester to enable him to stay and compete for a place with compatriot Kasper Schmeichel.
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Right-back: Cristian Manea (Romania) â” 7.09 rating
A one time target of Chelsea at the age of just 16, Manea became Romania’s youngest ever full international at the time in 2014 before waiting four years for his next senior cap. A regular in the first team last year, the 21-year-old was one of a handful of players for this summer’s surprise package to drop back down to under-21 level and his experience showed, producing 13 tackles and 12 interceptions across the tournament â” the latter being a record.
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Centre-back: Krystian Bielik (Poland) â” 7.60 rating
With goals in victories over Belgium and Italy, Bielik was on course to leading Poland to the semi-finals before suffering a heavy defeat to the eventual champions. That said, despite making just three appearances no player at the tournament made more clearances (23) and Arsenal fans will hope to see the 21-year-old â” who helped guide Charlton back to the Championship whilst on loan last season â” given a chance to impress.
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Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano (France) â” 7.07 rating
While he may have lost his place to U21 centre-back partner Ibrahima Konate at RB Leipzig for much of last season Upamecano looked the more assured of the two this summer. In four starts the 20-year-old made 11 interceptions, six tackles and completed 88.4 per cent of his passes, helping to keep two clean sheets
Left-back: Benjamin Henrichs (Germany) â” 7.06 rating
The first of two beaten finalists in the XI, Henrichs started four of Germany’s five matches, registering an assist in a 6-1 drubbing of Serbia. The Monaco full-back produced 13 tackles and seven interceptions in the tournament to boot as the 2017 champions surrendered their crown to Spain
Right wing: Dani Olmo (Spain) â” 7.96 rating
Having been left out of the opening defeat to Italy Olmo played every minute of Spain’s four matches thereafter, having a direct hand in a goal in each of said appearances. The 21-year-old scored in the crucial group victory over Belgium and registered an assist in the rout over Poland before finding the net in both the semi-final and final, mustering 16 shots in total
Central midfield: Fabian Ruiz (Spain) â” 8.21 rating
Having been forced off at half-time in the first match against the host â” a withdrawal that would hand Italy the advantage to go on and win â” Spain fans would have been fearing the worst. Ruiz missed the narrow victory over Belgium as a result but returned with a bang against Poland with a goal from distance and noticed another early in the final against Germany. With assists against both Italy and France he too had a hand in a goal in all four of his outings, amassing excellent figures for shots (14), dribbles (10), key passes (9) and tackles (11)
Central midfield: Dani Ceballos (Spain) â” 8.01 rating
Having been named player of the tournament two years ago in Poland Ceballos â” a regular senior international since â” returned for the U21s and was a catalyst for Spain’s success in Italy. The Real Madrid start started all five matches for the champions, scoring twice and registering two assists in the group stages alone, while leading the way in the tournament in both key passes (14) and successful dribbles (19)
Left wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy) â” 8.37 rating
The highest rated player at the tournament to have started three or more games, if any one player was unfortunate not to have reached the latter stages it was Chiesa. Another full international in this XI, the winger’s quality was clear to see as he scored three goals in the group phase and was the star of the show against the champions Spain. As well as mustering 14 shots and completing ten dribbles in three appearances the 21-year-old made the most tackles during the group phase (10)
Forward: George Puscas (Romania) â” 7.49 rating
With club side Palermo under financial investigation and failing to submit its application to compete in Serie B next season, Puscas was no doubt playing for his future at this summer’s championships and should have gained plenty of admirers. The 23-year-old, who is now a regular starter for the senior Romania side, netted four goals in as many appearances this summer from 13 shots whilst also completing seven dribbles from the front
Forward: Gian-Luca Waldschmidt (Germany) â” 8.28 rating
The Golden Boot winner at this summer’s tournament, Waldschmidt’s tally of seven goals was not only three clear of any other player but also a joint high in the history of the championships, equalling Marcus Berg’s haul for Sweden in 2009. The 23-year-old’s fantastic summer in front of goal will inspire hope in a national side still crying out for a clinical striker, with the Freiburg star having ten more shots than any other player at the tournament, hitting the target with 11 of 27 in total, whilst also creating 12 chances and registering an assist