In a mismatch that had echoes of the two countries’ meeting in the final of Euro 2012, Italy proved unable to cope with Spain’s far superior use of the ball and were a goal down inside six minutes when Thiago headed in from close range.
Though Ciro Immobile equalised within four minutes with a classy piece of control and a dinked finish over David De Gea, Spain pinned the Azzurrini back and dominated the remainder of the half, adding a second when Thiago finished from Koke’s floated cross and a third when he netted from the spot after Cristian Tello was fouled by Giulio Donati.
Thiago, linked with Manchester United in recent weeks, passed up the chance to score a fourth when handing penalty duties to Manchester City target Isco on 66 minutes as Spain extended their lead following a foul by Vasco Regini on Martin Montoya.
Fabio Borini scored the goal of the game for Italy on 80 minutes when exchanging passes with Lorenzo Insigne and finding the bottom corner with a fierce finish from 20 yards but the abiding memory of an exciting final was the superiority of Spain, and Thiago in particular.
The inspiration behind Spain’s lavishly talented Under-21 side has long been their captain and playmaker and within six minutes Thiago claimed his second goal in two European Under-21 Championship finals to give Julen Lopetegui’s side the lead.
Thiago nodded home unmarked from five yards but much of the credit for the opening strike went to Alvaro Morata, who created the chance with a clever turn and burst of pace to lose his markers in the box and dink a perfect cross in for his skipper.
Italy, though, were undaunted and soon inflicted a first goal against Spain in the tournament as Immobile levelled. The forward ran onto a fine ball over the top, controlled beautifully and then lifted a gorgeous shot over De Gea, who came and hesitated.
In what was a rousing encounter, Thiago teed up Morata with a sumptuous through-ball before the striker saw a low effort saved, Koke tested Bardi with a clever backheeled flick from a Tello cross and, at the other end, Alessandro Florenzi channelled Paul Gascogine at Euro 96 when lifting the ball away from Marc Bartra with a clever flick, only to be denied by an impressive save from De Gea.
Spain always looked the more composed and assured team though and their patient and studied build-up play brought further reward on 31 minutes when Koke floated a ball into the box for Thiago, who snuck in between two defenders to chest the ball down and squeeze a shot past Bardi for 2-1.
Remarkably, a player who scored only two goals in La Liga last season had a hat-trick seven minutes later to complete a stunning first half. Barca team-mate Tello raced into the box to draw a foul from Donati and the captain struck the ball down the middle and home as Bardi dived to his right.
Italy needed to be ruthless in the second half to have any chance of overturning Spain’s advantage but when the ball did drop perfectly for Alessandro Florenzi in the box following a lucky deflection off the head of Immobile, he rifled a volley over the bar before giving a despairing look.
Spain remained a persistent threat, with Isco firing wide with his right instep from a Tello cross and Tello himself having a low effort blocked by Bardi following another probing pass from Thiago. After 65 minutes they extended their lead when Regini brought Montoya to ground and Isco, having been handed duties by a selfless Thiago, rolled the ball home from the penalty spot.
A late wobble saw Borini pull one back for Italy as he swapped passes with Insigne and unleashed a tremendous drive that flew past De Gea and into the far corner, but Spain comfortably held on to extend their international hegemony.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Thiago (Spain) – His hat-trick decided the contest but the Barcelona midfielder also excelled when orchestrating Spain’s lovely build-up play and his performance was a sight to behold.
ITALY: Bardi 6, Donati 5, Caldirola 5, Bianchetti 5, Regini 5, Verratti 5, Florenzi 6, Rossini 5, Immobile 7, Insigne 7, Borini 6. Subs: Gabbiadini 6, Saponara 5, Crimi 5.
SPAIN: De Gea 6, Montoya 7, Bartra 6, Martinez 6, Moreno 6, Illarramendi 7, Koke 6, Thiago 9, Tello 7, Morata 7, Isco 7. Subs: Muniain 6, Rodrigo 6, Camacho N/A.
- Sports & Recreation
- Thiago Alcantara
- David De Gea
- Cristian Tello
- Ciro Immobile