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Expect a strong performance from Spain in the European U21 tournament

Thursday 15th June 2017
The years 2008 to 2013 have been described as the golden age of Spanish football with triumphs in two European Championships and a World Cup, but there is optimism of a new era of dominance beginning for Spain ahead of the UEFA European U21 tournament.

Spain won the 2011 and 2013 Under-21 competitions but failed to qualify for the version staged in the Czech Republic where Sweden clinched their first title by beating Portugal in a penalty shoot-out following a 0-0 draw in the final. For the forthcoming tournament to be staged in Poland, the number of teams participating has been increased to 12 from 8 playing in 2015, and the Spaniards qualified by beating Austria on away goals in the playoffs after finishing second in the group and just one point adrift of winners Sweden.

Yet Spain will enter this Under-21 tournament with several squad players now experienced in La Liga football while full-back Hector Bellerin has become an established member of the Arsenal first team squad and Gerard Deulofeu featured in 17 matches for Milan in Serie A after moving from Everton in a loan deal back in January.

Among the Spanish squad members plying their trade in La Liga last term, there is Marco Asensio who scored the fourth goal in Real Madrid's 4-1 Champions League final victory against Juventus, but who appeared in more than half of Real's domestic league matches during the last campaign.

Saul Niguez is another playing worth noting after featuring in 33 league games for Atletico Madrid last term and scoring four goals whereas Denis Suarez was involved in 26 La Liga contests for Barcelona after impressing for Villarreal during the previous season.

Another two players from the Spanish squad are also worth mentioning. Inaki Williams has played for his hometown club Athletic Bilbao since 2013 and netted 5 goals in 38 league appearances during the 2016-17 campaign. He also scored the winning goal when the Basque team beat Barcelona 2-1 in a first leg Copa del Rey tie during January.
As for Sandro Ramirez, he has been the subject of much speculation during the current transfer window after claiming 14 goals for Malaga last term following his free transfer from Barcelona. Sandro has benefited from playing regular first team football since that move from the Catalan team, and Everton have been strongly linked with completing his signature in the coming weeks.

Although the Spanish Under-21 squad contains several more players with top flight club experience, Portugal are expected to be difficult opponents in Group B. Defender Ruben Semedo was linked with a transfer to the Premier League before recently moving from Sporting Lisbon to ambitious Villarreal while forward Bruma will be worth watching after scoring 11 league goals for Galatasaray last season.

There will also be some interest in Group C of the tournament with Germany and Italy both competing. Th Italian squad is comprised entirely of home-based players whereas the Germans are likely to field ex-Arsenal midfield player Serge Gnabry who has recently completed a permanent transfer to Bayern Munich following an impressive Bundesliga campaign with Werder Bremen.

Several other players may also emerge as stars of the future before the Under-21 tournament concludes with the final in Krakow on June 30th, but Spain have been installed as narrow favourites to win the competition, and their experienced team is expected to be difficult to beat.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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