Julen Lopetegui wants his talented Spain side to be "one united team" in the final against five-time winners Italy, who are happy as underdogs according to coach Devis Mangia.
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Julen Lopetegui has called on his talented Spain side to be "one united team" as they go in search of back-to-back UEFA European Under-21 Championship titles. Lopetegui wants La Rojita, unbeaten in their last 25 competitive outings, to seize the opportunity to lift the trophy for the fourth time with victory against Italy in Jerusalem, adding that "the final is in our hands". His opposite number Devis Mangia is happy for Spain to be labelled favourites in what he described as "the most important game of our lives".
Devis Mangia, Italy coach
Spain have a great team and I don't mind if they are favourites. However, tomorrow from kick-off we start at 0-0 with 11 players on each side. I don't think Spain will try to control a special player like [Marco] Verratti, as they play more individually and, besides, tomorrow there might be another player who stands out. We will play as a united team like we normally do.
Before the Netherlands [semi-final] I said I would forget the friendly match we played against them in August. However, it is different with the game we played against Spain in November [a 3-1 home friendly defeat] because I will make use of it and treasure it for tomorrow's final.
I looked into the eyes of my players yesterday and no one is satisfied with just reaching the final. The players will all contribute and do their best. There is no doubt about this in my mind, you just need to look at us to see the desire. Italy have a chance to win because in the past in different competitions the less favoured team has won. Perfection does not exist in football. We have tactical and technical resources.
From 16 October [after qualifying for the final tournament with a play-off victory against Sweden] I said we can dream. I never wanted to talk about numbers, positions or rankings, but now we're going to play the most important game of our lives. Reaching the final is just the result of the dream that started on 16 October.
Italy 1-0 Netherlands (Borini 79)
Bardi; Donati, Bianchetti, Caldirola, Regini; Florenzi, Rossi (Crimi 90+2), Verratti, Insigne (Sansone 85); Borini, Immobile (Gabbiadini 63).
• The Jong Oranje failed to take advantage of their first-half superiority, with Adam Maher hitting a post and Daley Blind testing Francesco Bardi from long range. The Group B runners-up were then punished after the break when Fabio Borini turned and finished with aplomb to send Italy into their first final since claiming a fifth U21 title in 2004.
Luca Marrone is the only Italy player unavailable for the final after picking up a hamstring injury in the opening game against England that ended his tournament. There was good news regarding the fitness of Lorenzo Insigne, who played 85 minutes against the Netherlands after being a pre-match doubt. "My ankle is getting better," said the SSC Napoli attacking midfielder.
U21 final record
Italy have lifted the U21 trophy on five occasions and have lost just one final, a penalty shoot-out defeat by Spain in 1986. The Azzurrini's maiden crown came over two legs in 1992, the first of three successive titles that culminated in a shoot-out victory against La Rojita in 1996. Italy's fourth and fifth triumphs came in 2000 and 2004.
Julen Lopetegui, Spain coach
Italy are a very difficult team to play against, they have good defensive qualities. They are also a physical side with good tactics. We are continuing to work as a team but each individual is also very important.
Isco is one of the players who does not play as an individual but operates as part of a team. I am happy he's in good form and he will help the team. We will be one united team in the final. Italy do not only defend, they can attack too. They have attacking qualities and they create chances. They have a lot of strong defensive players but they have good attacking players as well.
Italy are a good team but we still have our quality and we are playing well. The final is in our hands. We need to work and play as I know we can – and to play as a team. We are thinking about ourselves, not about Italy. We have a lot of respect for Italy, especially the individuals they have. They also have a great coach and it will be a difficult game. We are thinking about what will be our best team – we have a lot of options but we will see tomorrow.
It's always good to have players with U21 experience but we are here to win now and the past is not important. I'm glad we have the experience from last time and also from the players' club sides. This will help us a lot in the final.
Spain 3-0 Norway (Rodrigo 45+1, Isco 87, Morata 90+3)
De Gea; Montoya, Bartra, Iñigo Martínez, Moreno; Thiago, Illarramendi, Koke; Tello (Muniain 74), Rodrigo (Morata 59), Isco (Sarabia 89).
• After camping out in the Norway half for the first 45 minutes, Spain finally broke through just before the interval when Rodrigo got off the mark in the tournament. Lopetegui's team were less dynamic after half-time but Isco put the result beyond doubt in the 87th minute before Álvaro Morata finished matters in added time.
La Rojita's first championship came via a shoot-out victory over Italy in 1986, but they lost to the same opposition in their next final appearance ten years later. Spain scooped the top award again in 1998 by beating Greece in the decider, yet had to wait until the most recent edition, in 2011, for their third crown.
Sergio Canales flew home after sustaining a hamstring injury against Russia on 6 June and Ignacio Camacho is a worry with a left ankle complaint. "We'll see how he responds, but we are optimistic," said Lopetegui.
The Spain coach also faces a dilemma over who to select up front, with tournament leading scoring Álvaro Morata and regular starter Rodrigo in fine form. Lopetegui said: "We are not thinking about starting Álvaro Morata any more than any of the other players who have been on the bench."
Since 2002, when the tournament format was changed to include a group stage, semi-final and final, no team has lasted the course without conceding a goal; Spain are yet to be breached. France (2002) and Germany (2009) have come closest, shipping just one goal. Spain can also become the first side to win back-to-back titles since the Netherlands triumphed in 2006 and 2007.
Did you know?
Son of versatile former US Lecce and ACF Fiorentina player Mazinho – a 1994 FIFA World Cup winner with Brazil – Spain captain Thiago Alcántara was born in southern Italy.