Thiago Alcántara was no stranger to success going into the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel. The midfielder grew up under the guidance of his father Mazinho, a 1994 FIFA World Cup winner with Brazil, and witnessed the accumulation of four Spanish Liga titles and a UEFA Champions League crown as an FC Barcelona player.
Indeed, having also scored in Spain's 2-0 victory over Switzerland in the 2011 Under-21 final in Denmark, the 22-year-old proved the perfect anchor around which coach Julen Lopetegui could build his 2013 team. Thiago was named captain and emerged as the focal point of a strong Spain midfield which also contained the likes of Isco and Cristian Tello. La Rojita were set on their way to an opening win against Russia in Group B thanks to Thiago's right-sided free-kick converted by Álvaro Morata's back-header.
A measured display followed as Spain eliminated Germany before a commanding performance in the 3-0 success against the Netherlands which helped Lopetegui's charges top their section. Thiago was withdrawn with 11 minutes left of that Oranje triumph – the only playing time he missed during the tournament – and was suitably rested to shine in the semi-final against Norway and then the final.
The playmaker really came into his own during the Jerusalem showpiece, recording the first-ever hat-trick in a one-off U21 final as Spain beat Italy 4-2 to retain their title. Vision, skill and a vast range of passing were all evident throughout but Thiago's perfect treble – a header, left-footed strike and coolly taken penalty – elevated him above the rest.
It was a showing that not only justified the No10's role as fulcrum of the Spain team but warranted the player of the tournament award. A subsequent transfer from Camp Nou to FC Bayern München ensued, with the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League winners adding a significant talent to their impressive crop of midfielders.
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