Italy completed a hat-trick of straight triumphs with victory over hosts Spain.
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Italy 1-1 Spain (aet, Italy win 5-4 on penalties)
(Totti 11; Raúl 41)
Olímpico de Montjuïc, Barcelona
Francesco Totti and Raúl González announced themselves on the international stage as Italy and Spain played out a memorable UEFA European Under-21 Championship final in Barcelona.
Both scored in the decider which remained 1-1 after extra time, despite the Azzurrini being forced to play out the last 15 minutes with just nine men. But it was Raúl who was to be disappointed as his penalty miss allowed Domenico Morfeo to seal a thrilling shoot-out victory.
Third successive triumph
It was a fitting way to win for Italy, whose star-studded team were forced to battle hard for their third successive triumph. Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine proved formidable opposition in a congested qualifying section but the Azzurrini finished top; their reward a rematch of the 1994 final against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
Spearheaded by Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero, the side edged through to the finals in Spain 2-1 on aggregate, and although both were subsequently promoted to the senior squad, Italy had a host of talented players queuing up to replace them.
Totti stepped to the fore, joining Christian Panucci, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Damiano Tommasi and Alessio Taccinardi in one of the most talented crop of players since the European Under-21 Championship began. The AS Roma forward made an immediate impression as his 50th-minute strike earned a 1-0 victory against France in the last four to set up a final against Spain. The tournament hosts had seen off surprise packages Scotland 2-1 in the semi-finals thanks to goals from Oscar Garcia and Iván de la Peña, to complete a fine run in the competition.
Spain were slow to find their feet in the final, however, and the expectant home crowd were silenced on eleven minutes when Totti gave Italy an early lead. Nicola Amoruso's 36th-minute dismissal left things in the balance and Raúl soon brought the scores level which is how it remained after 120 minutes, despite Italy being reduced to nine men when Raffaele Amertrano too was sent off. On to penalties where goalkeeper Angelo Pagotto, playing in favour of a 17-year-old Gianluigi Buffon, did enough to put off De la Peña and Raúl to ensure the Azzurrini prevailed.