Marco Asensio travelled to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship with a big reputation – and, after a slow start, proved his credentials when it mattered as Spain lifted the trophy yet again.
The attacking midfielder had agreed a move from Mallorca to Real Madrid in December 2014, although he spent the rest of the season back on loan at Estadi Son Moix, going on to score six goals in 36 Segunda División appearances. Once the league season was done, Asensio could focus on his international career – and he did so with aplomb.
Scoring in each of the elite round wins – against Georgia, Turkey – when he also provided two assists – and Portugal, Asensio initially found the going a little tougher at the final tournament in Greece. No goals or assists in the group stage meant Spain needed others to shine to squeeze into the semi-finals, although six shots on goal across the three matches hinted that there was more to come from Asensio.
And so it proved, spectacularly, against France in the last four. With five minutes to go, only Florian Escales' acrobatic stop prevented Asensio converting Borja's cut-back – but he, and Spain, would not be denied. Three minutes later Mouctar Diakhaby's loose pass was seized upon and Asensio raced through to place a left-foot shot across the goalkeeper.
Five minutes into added time, with France piling forward, Asensio raced through again to slot in a clinching second. "I've always believed in myself, I knew my moment would eventually come – and it did," he said. "I was lucky that everything turned out perfectly."
Asensio was duly at the heart of much of Spain's best work in the final against Russia and, though he was denied when his shot was turned on to the crossbar, Borja Mayoral was on hand to nod in the rebound for the opening goal. Asensio's pass then set Matías Nahuel away for a clinching second, and Spain could start to celebrate again.
"It's a unique feeling," Asensio told UEFA.com. "It will be difficult to beat. We came here with the motivation to become champions, and now we have achieved it. It's just incredible. The whole team is extremely happy. We played a good match, and we are all very euphoric.
"In the first couple of matches I wasn't in my best physical condition, but with matches and minutes passing by I felt better and better. You have to adapt to a tournament like this. In the semi-finals and the final you saw a better version of me. [I'm happiest] that we became champions. We became champions, and I made a lot of good friends. A lot of happiness, and a great experience: that's what I take from here."
Coach Luis da la Fuente paid fulsome tribute to Asensio, saying: "He's an extraordinary person. He is a great lad and team-mate, very helpful, and to that he adds great talent which is just out of this world. He has played with a lot of desire and has had a spectacular tournament.
"What do we hope for him? Obviously that he develops well – there's still a long way ahead for him, but he has to follow that path. And he understands that. He is born to be a leader, a champion, and a great player. And he understand that he hasn't achieved anything yet; this is just another step on a long ladder to the top."
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