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Tournament to end where it began for Spanish youngsters
- Updated: 12 July, 2012
The 2012 Uefa Under 19 Championship will end how it started for Spain after they beat France on penalties to set up a date with Greece in the tournament final on Sunday.
Julen Lopetegui’s youngsters now have the opportunity to win a record sixth title in Tallinan’s Lillekula Stadium after Gerard Deulofeu struck the decisive fifth penalty for Spain, to finally dispatch a spirited yet outplayed French side.
The Barcelona forward was the standout performer for la Rojita scoring two goals and striking the post, however it was some less-than astute defending that will maybe concern Lopetegui as his side attempt to retain the title they won last summer in Romania.
Despite falling behind to a 26th minute goal from Samuel Umtiti, Spain dominated the encounter and undoubtedly should have finished proceedings within 90 minutes. Deulofeu got the holders back on level terms just past the hour mark and when substitute Paco Alcacer put them ahead with just over 10 minutes remaining, there could have been few spectators in the stadium who believed in anything other than Spanish victory.
Not for the first time during this competition and indeed during this match, a defensive lapse cost Spain however as Umtiti was allowed to grab a dramatic equaliser deep into stoppage time.
Lopetegui was understandably furious on the sidelines and lambasted his players as the game headed into an once-unlikely period of extra-time. Spain again dominated and Deulofeu doubled his tally midway through the second-period of extra-time to seemingly send his side into a final showdown with Greece who had earlier beaten England.
Credit the French then as they continued to battle and stunned their opponents when former Manchester United starlet Paul Pogba netted from close-range with just two minutes remaining.
The tie was left to be decided on the lottery of a penalty shoot-out and when Atletico Madrid midfielder Jose Campana blazed his opening effort over the bar, it seemed Spain may just be on their way home.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man however as young Basque goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga proved the hero for his side. The Athletic Club stopper first denied two-goal hero Untini, then kept out Geoffory Kongdogbia to leave Deulofeu to fire in the winner after Denis Suarez, Jese Rodriguez and Paco Alcacer had all found success with their kicks.
Lopetegui’s side are sure to face a stiffer test from the Greeks than in their opening Group A game when Kostas Tsanas’ side failed to perform until the second-half, nevertheless Spain have got to the final by playing the best football of any team at the tournament and are odds-on favourites to retain their crown and make history.
If one thing looks certain however, it is the fact that there will be goals.Follow @icentrocampista