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Norway coach Tor Ole Skullerud admitted that Spain were "big favourites" to win Saturday's UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-final in Netanya but is hopeful his team might be ready to take "another big jump" forward by upsetting the holders. His Spain counterpart, Julen Lopetegui, believes his team will face their toughest test yet against the Scandinavians.
Julen Lopetegui, Spain coach
For me, tomorrow will be the hardest match of the tournament. We're in the semi-finals of a European Championship and have the chance to get to the final, but so do Norway. We have as much respect for Norway as for Italy or any other team. They're a complete team in every aspect, they have great tactical discipline, and have been reinforced by four players from their national team.
They're the team who've had the most corners and one of the teams with the most shots on goal. They knocked out France [in the play-offs] and have beaten England. They have a lot of good players, who have experience with the full national team. They are players with different styles who combine well together. Their attacking play is very good and they defend with great intensity and real unity – they're a proper team.
[On starting with Rodrigo or Álvaro Morata] I've already decided in my mind who will start. We have the two options and we'll decide at each moment. Whichever of the two plays will do a fantastic job.
Group stage results
Spain 1-0 Russia (Morata 82)
Germany 0-1 Spain (Morata 86)
Spain 3-0 Netherlands (Morata 26, Isco 32, Álvaro Vázquez 90+1)
• Spain sealed a semi-final berth with a game to spare thanks to two late Álvaro Morata goals. The Real Madrid CF forward chalked up three goals in 70 minutes after coming off the bench against Russia and Germany and scoring a 26th-minute opener in the final Group B match against the Netherlands. Morata subsequently leads the race for the adidas Golden Boot award.
Lopetegui said he is hopeful midfielder Ignacio Camacho will recover from the ankle injury he suffered against the Netherlands. "He's got a chance of being fit and that's what we're working towards," said the coach, who otherwise has no injury doubts.
Tor Ole Skullerud, Norway coach
We have made several breakthroughs which have given us confidence and helped us build a strong squad. I feel very strongly that if we are to make another big jump it has to be tomorrow.
Spain are big favourites going into the game. They have played three good games so far, we have studied them and we are going to try to make a good game plan. We can be the big surprise of the tournament, maybe we already are. I have lots of good players and we have a fantastic mentality but you don't get much better than Spain – they're probably one of the best teams in the world at this level. It's a fantastic opportunity for us to see what we can do against the best.
We don't want only to defend but also to attack and give them as much trouble as we can with our own play – we'll try to interrupt their passing and moving, their rhythm. If we let them play all the time and can't get in tackles and win the ball then we're going to struggle. I am sure Spain will have more of the ball, but the problem is if we let them come too far up the pitch, let them play through and there's lots of movement in the last third of the pitch. It's not a problem to have less possession but we need to cause them trouble as well. Against England we were clinical, we did well on the counter but I want to keep the ball better than we did against them.
[On the 5-2 friendly loss to Spain in March] We had a poor game but our team was very different and we hadn't started our league back in Norway. I am sure we'll be closer to the level of Spain this time.
Group stage results
Israel 2-2 Norway (Biton 16pen, Turgeman 71; Pedersen 24, Singh 90+1)
England 1-3 Norway (Dawson 57pen; Semb Berge 15, Berget 34, Eikrem 52)
Norway 1-1 Italy (Strandberg 90pen; Bertolacci 90+4)
• The Scandinavian side needed a late Harmeet Singh equaliser to prise a point from hosts Israel in the opening game and moved to within a point of qualification with victory against England in Petah Tikva. A point against Italy in their final Group A game was enough to seal only Norway’s second U21 semi-final appearance.
Fredrik Semb Berge came through his first full training session on Thursday since the England game and Skullerud confirmed in his press conference he has a full squad to choose from. "We go into tomorrow with all 23 players ready to play," he said.
Unbeaten in 24 competitive matches, a run which includes 22 wins, Spain are looking to win the U21 trophy for the fourth time after previous triumphs in 1986, 1998 and 2011.
Did you know?
Julen Lopetegui experienced Norwegian football as a player for Rayo Vallecano de Madrid in the 2000 UEFA Cup first round against Molde FK. The Spain coach played 90 minutes as the capital club triumphed 1-0 in Scandinavia but was an unused substitute in the return leg which finished 1-1.
For more information read the full press kit.
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