El Centrocampista

Real Madrid starlet’s hat-trick joy but defensive lapses cost Spain

Almost two weeks after Spain and Portugal played out a nervy and somewhat tedious 0-0 draw in the semi-final of Euro 2012, the two countries met again in Group A of the Uefa Under 19 Championship.

However, while the senior sides provided a less-than inspiring 120 minutes of football before Vicente del Bosque’s men triumphed on penalties in Donetsk, the youngsters delivered a thoroughly entertaining 3-3 draw in Tallinn’s Lillekula Stadium.

Nonetheless, there were similarities in the two performances of the Spanish sides as la Roja again enjoyed overwhelming possession yet were again unable to secure the victory they most certainly should have achieved.

Julen Lopetegui’s side took the lead three times yet were pegged back by their Iberian neighbours after some less-than convincing defendin. Portugal battled well and should be congratulated for a spirited display, however Spain should really have finished the game off long before Joao Mario stepped up to fire his stoppage time penalty past Kepa Arizzabalaga and salvage a point.

Both Spain and Portugal will surely still qualify for the semi-finals as they face Estonia and Greece respectively in the final group games on Monday.

The first 45 minutes was a breathtaking display of attacking football from Spain and was lead by Barcelona’s precociously-talented Gerard Deulofeu who caused havoc down Portugal’s left flank.

The Catalan showed the form that has made him arguably one of the most exciting prospects to emerge form la Masia since Lionel Messi and with his Barca B teammate Alejandro Grimaldo also impressing on the left, it is clear Spain and Barcelona have an exciting future on that side of the pitch.

Atletico Madrid youngster Oliver Torres was again imperious in midfield, being ably supported by Liverpool’s Suso who exhibited some outrageous skill at times – not least when he bamboozled his marker with a Ronaldinho-esque ‘elastic’ midway through the second-half.

The star of the show however, was Real Madrid star Jese Rodriguez who helped himself to a hat-trick to add to the goal the 19-year-old scored in the opening game against Greece.

The Canary Island-born forward showed why he has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo as he tore through the Portugal defence three times to beat goalkeeper Rafael Veloso.

It took less than 10 minutes for Jese to open his account as he latched onto a through-ball to race clear and finish with confidence. Yet the lead lasted just two minutes as the also-impressive Bruma pegged Spain back from close-range.

Jese’s second goal saw the forward show his full potential as his explosive power and speed enabled him to break into the area to beat Veloso at his far post.

Deulofeu was the creator of Spain’s third goal minutes after the break as the Barcelona maestro danced into the Portuguese penalty area to eventually find Jese who calmy slotted past Veloso to grab his hat-trick.

Spain enabled Portugal back into the game three times however, which is sure to have concerned Lopetegui – not least because his side had also endured a nervy finish to their first game against Greece after initially dominating.

Defensive concerns aside, Spain go into their next game against Estonia looking a good bet to retain the title they won in Romania last year. France look set to win group B with England most likely to join them in the semi-finals, however there could be few people watching Spain’s encounter with Portugal who would doubt the two sides will most likely meet again in the tournament final next Sunday.

Spain have shown why they are the bookmakers favourites to lift what would be their sixth title and it is also clear la Roja’s current dominance of world football shows few signs of slowing down just yet.

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