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Spain in seventh heaven with Greece triumph

Spain claimed the UEFA European Under-19 Championship for the seventh time in 14 years, defeating Russia in Katerini, Greece to deny their opponents a U17/U19 double.

Spain lift the trophy in Katerini, Greece
Spain lift the trophy in Katerini, Greece ©Sportsfile

The UEFA European Under-19 Championship's dominant force, Spain had not lifted the trophy since 2012 – but ended that mini-drought in considerable style in Greece.

As usual, a number of big names failed to make the final tournament, 2014 hosts Hungary falling in the qualifying round and 2013 champions Serbia, 2014 runners-up Portugal and England all eliminated in the elite round.

The latter were knocked out by France, who started their finals campaign with a 1-0 defeat of Austria and slowly gained momentum thereafter, confirming a semi-final place with a game to spare thanks to a 3-1 win against Ukraine, a 2-0 matchday three win against Greece sealing top spot in Group A. The hosts nevertheless went through as runners-up thanks to an opening 2-0 win against Ukraine and a goalless draw with Austria; the latter fell one goal short of overtaking Greece, a concluding 2-2 draw against Ukraine leaving the teams third and fourth respectively.

Group B was even tighter, with all four teams finishing level on points – a first for the finals. Spain and the Netherlands seized the early initiative with wins against holders Germany (3-0) and Russia (1-0) respectively, but both were undone next time out, Russia running out 3-1 victors against Spain and Gianluca Rizzo's last-gasp goal reviving the holders at the expense of the Dutch. Russia progressed as section winners after a 2-2 draw as Germany, Spain withstanding a second-half Netherlands surge to claim a 1-1 draw that took them into the last four as runners-up.

Both semi-finals were tight affairs – initially, at least. In front of almost 15,000 spectators in Larissa, Greece went close through Nikolas Vergos and Efthymis Koulouris in the first 45 minutes only to fall apart after Nikita Chernov heading Russia into a 50th-minute lead. Aleksei Gasilin added a second two minutes later and Ramil Sheydaev's penalty made it three, his record-breaking 12th goal of the season. Greece lost Timos Tselepidis to 68th-minute red card and Chernov completed their misery with a late fourth.

France and Spain were meeting in a U19 semi-final for the fourth time, and all the previous three had gone to extra time – two to penalties. Their Katerini contest looked to be heading the same way, until Marco Asensio's solo strike gave Spain an 88th-minute advantage; the same player added a crowning second deep into added time.

A repeat of Russia's group stage win against Spain never looked likely however, and only four excellent saves from goalkeeper Anton Mitryushkin inside the first half-hour prevented Spain running away with it. Luis de la Fuente's side finally broke through six minutes before half-time through Borja Mayoral – who had earlier hit the bar – and substitute Matías Nahuel clinched victory, and a record-extending seventh title, 12 minutes from time.