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Thiago treble helps Spain retain Under-21 crown

Italy 2-4 Spain
Captain Thiago Alcántara's first-half hat-trick fired Spain to a fourth UEFA European Under-21 Championship title and second in a row.

Thiago treble helps Spain retain Under-21 crown
Thiago treble helps Spain retain Under-21 crown ©UEFA.com

Thiago Alcántara struck the first ever hat-trick in a one-off Under-21 final as Spain beat Italy 4-2 to retain their UEFA European U21 Championship title.

Julen Lopetegui's masterly Spain side came into the decider unbeaten in 25 competitive encounters, and though Thiago's early opener looked to have set them on course to increase that tally, Ciro Immobile soon struck back for Italy. It proved a false dawn for Devis Mangia's team, who fell behind again just after the half-hour.

The two previous finals between these nations – in 1986 and 1996 – had been won on penalties, so it was fitting that spot kicks from Thiago and Isco ultimately settled matters in Jerusalem. Fabio Borini's 80th-minute riposte was too little, too late.

Considering these two sides had conceded a solitary goal between them in Israel, few could have foreseen such a helter-skelter encounter. Álvaro Morata, the adidas Golden Boot winner with four goals, had been Spain's go-to man in their opening four fixtures and, six minutes into the showpiece, again came up trumps. This time he played the role of provider, shimmying his way to the byline before standing the ball up for Thiago to head in from close range.

If that was typical tiki-taka from Spain, the Azzurrini's equaliser came in more direct fashion. Immobile brought down Matteo Bianchetti's long pass with one exquisite touch before dinking the ball over David de Gea – bang went Spain's tournament clean sheet.

Francesco Bardi soon got down swiftly to deny Morata and Koke, thus keeping his team level. De Gea, making his 27th appearance to equal Santi Denia as Spain's most-capped U21 international, was in action himself before the half-hour. Alessandro Florenzi raced on to Borini's pass, bamboozled Marc Bartra and volleyed goalwards – De Gea was well placed.

Thiago Alcántara converts from the spot
Thiago Alcántara converts from the spot©Getty Images

It proved a turning point for Spain, who restored their advantage when Thiago wriggled free, took Koke's ball down on his chest and squeezed a shot through Bardi's legs. The Italian did not get quite so close to preventing La Rojita's third, Thiago slotting past him from the spot after Giulio Donati felled Tello.

The FC Barcelona midfielder so nearly made it four after the interval but his low effort was thwarted by Bardi. De Gea should also have been required not long after, Lorenzo Insigne and Florenzi both snatching at half-chances. Isco soon followed suit at the other end, putting his first-time finish narrowly wide following a lightning-fast counterattack from Cristian Tello.

Though Tello's pace was now proving a frequent thorn in Italy's side, it was the man behind him who teed up Spain's fourth, Martín Montoya pulled down by Vasco Regini after racing forward from right-back; Isco made no mistake.

Despite the early scare it seemed that, finally, Lopetegui's assertion that "the final is in our hands" had come to fruition. Though Borini prompted brief cause for alarm with a fine finish, Lopetegui, mastermind of Spain's U19 triumph last summer, could join a record crowd at Teddy Stadium in watching his team lift Spain's fourth U21 title in consummate fashion.