Winners of four of the first six UEFA European Under-19 Championships, Spain had not triumphed since 2007 before ending the wait with a dramatic success in Romania.
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The tenth edition of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Romania ended in familiar fashion, with Spain holding the trophy aloft.
Champions in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007, the Iberian side claimed a fifth triumph – and a fourth for their coach, the irrepressible Ginés Meléndez – in dramatic fashion. They were pushed all the way in the final by a resilient Czech Republic side, but Paco Alcácer came off the bench to score twice in the final 12 minutes of extra time and take the trophy to Spain permanently.
With France, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, England and Germany all eliminated in the elite round, the Republic of Ireland (2002) and Belgium (2006) both qualified after lengthy absences. Hosts Romania were making their finals debut and quickly discovered how uncompromising the tournament can be.
Lucian Burchel's team took a first-half lead in their opening Group A fixture against the Czechs in Chiajna but ultimately succumbed to a 3-1 defeat, two Anthony O'Connor goals ensuring Ireland also made a winning start at the expense of Greece.
Ireland also scored first against the Czechs on Matchday 2 but two goals in three second-half minutes turned the game around, Greece reviving their hopes with a 1-0 defeat of the hosts. The Czechs therefore made sure of their semi-final place, as section winners, with a 1-0 defeat of Greece, a result which also allowed Ireland, who drew 0-0 with Romania, to progress.
Spain and Serbia gained early control of Group B, although the former had to wait to get their campaign off and running as their opening fixture against Belgium was abandoned after 15 minutes due to adverse weather conditions. Meléndez's side ran out 4-1 winners when the teams reconvened the following day, a 4-0 win against Serbia – 2-0 victors against Turkey in their opening game – taking Spain into the semi-finals with a match to spare.
Serbia secured the runners-up berth with a 1-1 Matchday 3 draw against Belgium meaning Turkey missed out despite a 3-0 defeat of Spain, a late Belgian equaliser in the second game costing Kemal Özdeş' team dear.
The Czech Republic therefore took on Serbia in the first semi-final in Mogosoaia, and led 3-0 before 20 minutes had elapsed thanks to goals from Tomáš Přikryl, Tomáš Kalas and Tomáš Jeleček, the third a penalty. Djordje Despotović's quickfire double brought Serbia back into the contest by the 28th minute, but Jiří Skalák sealed the result late on.
Runners-up in 2010, Spain stormed into their sixth U19 final as a clinical attacking display proved too much for Ireland in Chiajna, Gerard Deulofeu and Pablo Sarabia scoring fine goals in the first half. Juanmi added a third shortly after the restart before the finals' eventual top scorer, Álvaro Morata – who hit a hat-trick against Serbia on Matchday 2 – took his tournament tally to six goals with a late double.
Meléndez's side found themselves up against it in the final when Ladislav Krejčí's fierce low shot gave the Czechs a 52nd-minute lead, but a spirited revival was rewarded in the 85th minute by Jon Aurtenetxe's opportunistic equaliser. Substitute Patrik Lácha restored the Czech lead in the 97th minute yet still Spain refused to buckle, Paco Alcácer replying 11 minutes later and finally decided a gripping contest in the 115th minute to spark yet more Spanish celebrations.