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Spanish pair showcase holders' pedigree

Spain midfielders Koke and Asier Illarramendi are hoping to end impressive seasons on a high but Arild Østbø warned that underdogs Norway will make it a "tight" semi-final.

Koke in action during Spain's Group B win over Germany
Koke in action during Spain's Group B win over Germany ©Getty Images

There was an illustration of the quality of player at Julen Lopetegui's disposal when midfielders Koke and Asier Illarramendi took their seats beside the Spain coach in the press conference looking ahead to Saturday's UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-final against Norway.

Both players arrived in Israel fresh from seasons of high achievement in the Spanish Liga. Koke won the Copa del Rey with third-placed Club Atlético de Madrid while Illarramendi helped Real Sociedad de Fútbol claim a fourth-place finish, and with it a UEFA Champions League play-off spot, on the season's final day.

Yet neither player was interested in dwelling on their club successes; instead the focus was on what comes next. "What I've done at Atlético is done now and I have to think about the European Championship, which is completely different," said Koke.

Indeed for the 21-year-old, other members of the squad have more relevant experience to bring. "There are other players here who were at the last tournament who can give us advice on how to get to the final and how much you have to go through to get there," he added. "They're the ones to tell us what we have to do.

"Tomorrow's game will be very difficult because we're in a semi-final of a European Championship. Whoever plays – be it Illara, myself, Camacho, Tiago – we'll try to do well, and play our game."

Illarramendi had much the same to say. "It's been quite a good season but right now it's over," he said, adding: "With the national team until now we've had a good tournament. We have won three games, we've not conceded any goals, and there's a lot of belief in the team."

Flamur Kastrati and Omar Elabdellaoui
Flamur Kastrati and Omar Elabdellaoui©Sportsfile

There is belief in the Norway ranks too, though, as forward Flamur Kastrati underlined, despite the big names Spain can call on. "They are players playing in the highest league in the world so respect to them but tomorrow is another game and will start at 0-0," said , who plays for German second-tier side FC Erzgebirge Aue.

The team-mate alongside him in Norway's pre-match press conference was goalkeeper Arild Østbø, currently based at Strømmen IF in Norway's second tier – another example of the different profiles of these two sides, especially when you consider Spain's own No1, David de Gea, plays for Manchester United FC.

"David de Gea is a great goalkeeper but we have good players that can score against him also," said Østbø, who regained his place in the team for the Italy match after Orjan Nyland Haskjold started Norway's first two fixtures.

"Of course I am hopeful I will be playing, it depends on the coach," he added. If selected, he played down the size of the task at hand. "I am not sure I will be so busy as they pass the ball a lot and haven’t created that many chances. It will be a tight game."