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Spain have a ball in the final

Spain have a ball in the final
Borja Mayoral celebrates scoring Spain's first goal in the final against Russia ©Sportsfile

Spain have a ball in the final

For the coach of a national team, facing the same opponent twice in a short space of time poses a number of questions.

In club competitions, the second match is coloured by the result of the first, by away goals, by crowd factors and so on. But, at the neutral venues of an international tournament, each match is an island. The backdrop to the final in Katerini was the group game in Veria nine days earlier, when Russia's power play and direct counterattacking had earned a 3-1 win. While Dmitri Khomukha may have been tempted to go for the same again, Luis de la Fuente had analysed the shortcomings and devised a game plan to avoid, as the Spanish saying goes, tripping over the same stone twice.

Winning player: Marco Asensio

The aim was to short-circuit Russian power play. Ball circulation was high; losses of possession in sensitive areas were successfully kept to a minimum; positional play and attack/defence balance were rational; and Russia, for most of the game, were deprived of the ball and obliged to burn calories in the pursuit of shadows. What's more, Spain's possession game led to more scoring opportunities than in any of their previous matches.

For long periods, the final was a monologue. But the white-shirted Russians never flagged in their search for opportunities to deliver a reply, Spanish keeper Antonio Sivera needing to dive to his right to turn a header from striker Ramil Sheydaev round the post. But this was in the 16th minute, by which time the Russia keeper, Anton Mitryushkin had worked up a sweat.

The Spain coach had stressed the relevance of set plays – and his players reacted by conceding only five free-kicks and one corner. Russian frustration, on the other hand, prompted 17 fouls and eight corners – the third of which led to a clearance off the line and the fifth a heroic double-save by Mitryushkin.