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Holders Spain into finals again

Julen Lopetegui's Spain posted three successive 2-1 wins to finish first in elite round Group 7 and book their place in the final stage of a tournament they won last year.

Spain celebrate victory against Armenia
Spain celebrate victory against Armenia ©Roberto Ricciuti/TotalFootball.am

UEFA European Under-19 Championship holders Spain will defend the title in Estonia later this summer after winning elite round Group 7 with a perfect record.

Julen Lopetegui's side recorded three successive 2-1 victories to clinch first place with a match to spare, Spain's strength in depth illustrated by the fact their six goals came from six different players. The five-time champions were made to work hard in their opening match against Armenia, however, losing FC Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu for a second bookable offence in first-half added time.

It seemed to matter little when Suso put Spain in front five minutes past the hour, but Armenia substitute Davit Hakobyan levelled seven minutes later and it looked as if Spain would have to settle for a single point particularly when their own replacement, Jesé Rodríguez, missed an 84th-minute penalty. Captain Juanmi had other ideas, however, popping up four minutes into added time with what would prove a crucial winning goal.

Mini-tournament hosts Italy had also survived an early red card on matchday one, in their case for Rodrigo Ely, as they defeated Belgium 2-1 thanks to first-half goals from Riccardo Improta and Andrea Schiavone, the latter a penalty. It all looked rosy for Alberigo Evani's team when Improta struck against 11 minutes into the match with Spain, but again Spain rallied late on and goals from substitute José Campaña (72) and Jesé Rodríguez (82) secured their finals berth.

It was three wins from three thanks to yet another 2-1 triumph for Lopetegui's charges, with Deulofeu and Denis Suárez scoring in each half to see off Belgium – whose qualification hopes had been ended by Hovhannes Hovhannisyan's late goal that gave Armenia a 1-1 draw on matchday two. Italy closed with an impressive 4-1 defeat of Armenia, but it is Spain who will take their familiar place in July's finals.

Lopetegui said: "I'm very proud of my players. We have managed an incredible result with qualification for the final stage. We suffered against Italy's athletic and physical approach, and we had some problems with the dry pitch. Spain's mentality came out in the second half, showing our philosophy, winning through our play."

"We played very well, against the strongest football nation," said Italy coach Alberigo Evani. "We had a great first half, gaining a deserved advantage. Unfortunately in the second half, our weaknesses came out and Spain showed their quality. We didn't deserve to lose."