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Road to the final


Road to the final

Spain began the UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals in Lithuania looking for a third successive title at this level. Their defence of the crown they claimed in Estonia a year earlier began with a tough Group A assignment against Portugal in Marijampole. The two sides had produced a thrilling 3-3 group stage draw in 2012, but this time, a solitary Sandro Ramírez strike before half time gave Spain the points – a goal that was not the product of customary Spanish short passing, but rather an astute long ball from José Rodriguez that was brilliantly controlled by Ramírez and finished in style.

©Saulius Čirba

Rai Vloet wheels away after his key goal

Late drama meant the Lithuanian hosts lost out to the odd goal in five against the Netherlands in the other Group A opener in Kaunas. The Dutch looked to be coasting when Anass Achachbar scored twice in the first half-hour, but Lithuania countered purposefully with Lukas Artimavičius and a wonderful Gratas Sirgėdas solo effort pulling them level, only for Rai Vloet to head in from a corner deep into added time.

Lithuania, cheered on by a near-9,000 crowd, were unable to stop Spain's momentum in the second match, a goal in each half by Real Sociedad de Fútbol's Iker Hernández giving the title holders success. Meanwhile, Portugal hit their stride against the Netherlands, a fine 4-1 win coming courtesy of two goals from Alexandre Guedes, and two more from Leandro Silva and Ricardo Horta, with Vloet producing a stunning long-range consolation for the Dutch.

In Group B, Georgia marked their debut in the Under-19 final round with a creditable goalless draw against France in Alytus. Serbia also got off to a promising start with a narrow 2-1 success against Turkey, an Andrija Luković header and Aleksandar Mitrović volley proving enough despite substitute Recep Niyaz's late reply.

Turkey went down by the same scoreline to France, Adrien Hunou putting the French into an early lead and Yassine Benzia stretching their advantage, with İbrahim Yılmaz's late consolation penalty not enough to keep Okan Buruk's team in the competition. Serbia, meanwhile, ensured a semi-final berth with a single goal in a close-fought encounter with Georgia, substitute Dejan Meleg on target with 16 minutes remaining.

Watch the road to the final video

The third set of group matches produced 19 goals in four games and considerable entertainment for spectators and TV viewers. Portugal booked their semi-final ticket with a comfortable 4-2 success over Lithuania – watched by another enthusiastic 8,000 crowd in Kaunas. Marcos Lopes' long-range effort put Portugal ahead, and a Džiugas Petrauskas own goal on the stroke of half-time increased the advantage with Tobias Figueiredo adding a penalty soon after the interval. Although Sirgėdas swiftly pulled one back, Carlos Mané made it four for Portugal but fittingly Lithuania had the last word, Sirgėdas scoring again with the last kick of the game.

Spain reached the last four by coming from behind to eliminate the Netherlands in Alytus. Clint Leemens scored for the Dutch on the half-hour, but the six-time winners responded after the break through Ramírez's second goal of the tournament, and increased their lead through Álvaro Vadillo and Fede Vico. Achahbar's late penalty was not enough for Wim van Zwam's Netherlands.


Marko Pavlovski after scoring against France

Back in Kaunas, Marko Pavlovski's free-kick cancelled out Hunou's first-half opener for France and gave Serbia first place in Group B, with their opponents also progressing. In a turbulent game in Marijampole Turkey beat Georgia 4-2 as both sides bade farewell to Lithuania. Avto Endeladze opened the scoring in blistering style for Georgia, but Turkey hit back with two Okan Deniz strikes within three first-half minutes. Nika Katcharava levelled for Georgia after the interval, but Turkey drew away through Niyaz and Cenk Şahin.

So to the semi-finals, and an afternoon of twists and turns in Alytus. Uroš Djurdjević put Serbia ahead early on, but Bernardo Silva and Guedes struck for Portugal after half-time. Serbian substitute Mijat Gačinović equalised to take the game into extra time and, eventually, a tense penalty shoot-out. Portugal led 2-0 at one stage, but then missed their next three spot kicks, Serbia's goalkeeper Predrag Rajković saving two of them. Serbia missed two penalties of their own, but, at 2-2, their senior international Mitrović kept his cool to slot in the decisive kick and put his team in the final.

The second semi-final in Kaunus came alive around the half-hour. Spain went ahead when José Rodriguez converted from the penalty spot, only for France to respond immediately with dangerous striker Benzia shooting them level. A tight, absorbing contest went into extra time, before Antoine Conte – who had given away the penalty – pounced on a defensive error to fire France into the final and end Spain's recent dominance of the competition.