Does Thiago Alcantara Win His Barcelona Place with Under-21 Euro Victory?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2013

Spain's Under-21 side showed they have similar talent, consistency and desire for silverware as their senior counterparts on Tuesday as they waltzed to a 4-2 European under-21 Championships victory over Italy in Israel.

The proud youngsters add that title to a long list accumulated over the past five years by the senior side—who are themselves hoping to win the Confederations Cup this month—and captain Thiago Alcantara was perhaps the Spanish player who most stood out for his final performance.

Out of all the members of the Spain squad heading into this tournament, Thiago was the one whom the most transfer speculation surrounded, and a lesser player might have let that pressure affect his performances.

A first-half hat-trick pretty much put to bed any notion of that happening here.

Quite aside from his goals, Thiago's all-round performance was a joy to behold once more and there must now be questions asked at club level whether this prodigy deserves the chance to really take his place in the Barcelona first team rather than being sold on.

Spain were of course the favourites heading into the tournament, and their strong form en route to the final did nothing to dispel such expectations. Italy themselves showed consistent ability and won three of their four matches before the final itself, but Spain were a step too far for them—as they have been for most sides.

Spain took just six minutes to score the first goal of the game as they completely cut Italy open, Isco combining with Alvaro Morata down the left channel before the latter lifted a cross into the six-yard box, where Italy had contrived to leave Thiago completely alone.

A simple nodded header got the goal fest underway in exemplary style.

Italy, to their credit, battled back constantly throughout the match and showed great mental fortitude, as shown by their almost immediate equaliser on a sublimely taken lob from Ciro Immobile.

After a period thereafter when Italy might have made the most of their sudden upturn in fortune, Spain was once again able to dominate possession and put the game out of reach behind the sheer brilliance of Thiago Alcantara.

An expertly chested down cross was cushioned into his own path inside the penalty area for a left-footed finish, and he completed his hat-trick five minutes later on a penalty tally following a foul on Cristian Tello.

Lorenzo Insigne, Isco, Fabio Borini and Tello all traded efforts on goal after the break, but a second penalty for Spain—this time for a trip on Martin Montoya—all but sealed the fate of this tie.

Isco took it this time, and sent goalkeeper Francesco Bardi the wrong way to make it 4-1.

A host of changes took some of the flow and pace out of the game, but Borini's arrowed shot into the far corner from 20 yards gave Italy one last glimmer of hope that a late comeback might be in the cards. Spain, however, were far too savvy in possession to give their rivals any real opportunities on goal.

With Thiago at the centre of their composure, resilience and continued creativity as the game drew to a close—more than ably assisted by the excellent Asier Illarramendi and the energetic Koke—Spain deservedly held out to lift the European under-21 Championships trophy.

The captain will lift the trophy and will no doubt enjoy a fine summer's rest thereafter, but soon enough the new campaign will roll around.

And when it does, Thiago must surely feel he has earned the right to take his place alongside elder greats of the game in the heart of the Barcelona team.