Two goals from Juan Mata and one from the tournament’s leading scorer, Adrián, saw Spain beat Ukraine 3-0 to progress to the semi-finals and eliminate their opponents.
Spain strode fairly unimpeded into the semi-finals with a 3-0 victory which confirmed their Group B supremacy and the elimination of Ukraine.
Luis Milla’s team cast aside the pre-match calculations and played as the sum of their princely parts – their controlled performance being embellished by first-half strikes from Juan Mata and leading scorer Adrián and a second-half spot kick by Mata. Next up for Spain are Belarus on Wednesday, when Ukraine will be absent from the last four for the third successive UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Spain had been good enough not to have to rely on favours – at kick-off, a point would seal their progress whatever the England-Czech Republic result – yet that was exactly what they got. Ukraine centre-back Serhiy Kryvtsov appeared perfectly positioned to clear Ander Herrera’s forward pass. Instead, he slipped, the ball ran through to Mata and Spain’s No10 slid it under goalkeeper Anton Kanibolotskiy for his first goal of the tournament.
Fair to say Ukraine had been warned. The Spaniards’ urgent start almost yielded an earlier breakthrough when left-back Didac Vila Rosello rattled the outside of Kanibolotskiy’s post after linking up with Iker Muniain. It was an overlapping right-back who supplied Adrián with his third score here in Denmark. Martín Montoya’s lung-busting break enabled him to take Thiago Alcántara’s enticing pass in his stride and cross for the sliding Adrián to make it 2-0.
Not what the vocal Ukrainian supporters gathered behind Kanibolotskiy’s goal had been hoping to see. Ukraine coach Pavlo Yakovenko had also seen enough and replaced the more attacking Maxym Biliy with holding midfielder Oleg Golodyuk. Going into the game, the sole condition for Ukraine to continue in the competition was to win.
Yakovenko, needing at least one goal from his hitherto barren team, had turned to Roman Zozulya and Andriy Yarmolenko. Yet his side’s best first-half efforts comprised a long-range strike from Yevhen Konoplyanka straight at David de Gea and Bohdan Butko’s coruscating cross that begged to be converted.
Spain, by contrast, were looking anything but middling in Midtjylland, the central region of Jutland. Golodyuk’s left-wing burst was one second-half occasion for the Ukrainians to break their duck, yet he was crowded out by back-tracking red shirts.
Nonetheless, the illusion that they were coming to terms with Spain was shattered after 72 minutes. Thiago measured his through pass to meet the surge of Mata who was checked by Denys Garmash. The punishment of Garmash’s red card was compounded by captain Mata’s powerful strike beyond Kanibolotskiy.
Curiously, Ukraine’s best opportunity of the night arrived moments later. De Gea was left alone to deal with the unattended Zozulya and brought the attacker down. The goalkeeper, duly cautioned, promptly made the save from Konoplyanka’s tame conversion. On this evidence, Spain – European U21 champions in 1986 and 1998 – could make it a triple crown.
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