GK: David de Gea (Spain)
Went 370 minutes without conceding before he was lobbed by Ciro Immobile in the final. His appearance in that game was a 27th for Spain at under-21 level – a record he now jointly holds with former Atlético Madrid defender Santiago Denia. Throughout the tournament, de Gea was largely untested – Spain allowed just nine attempts on target across their five matches, but when called upon, the Manchester United stopper made some important saves – most notably to deny Alessandro Florenzi with the scores level against Italy.
RB: Giulio Donati (Italy)
What he lacked in physical attributes, Donati made up with a great desire and work ethic. Defensively, he was excellent throughout. The penalty conceded in the final after clipping Cristian Tello was unfortunate, but that was the only blemish on an otherwise solid tournament. Donati showed himself to be a well rounded defender. In Italy’s early games, against England and Israel, he demonstrated an ability to get forward and support the attack, before coping with a sterner defensive test in the latter rounds. Along with Luca Caldirola and Francesco Bardi, he played every minute for Italy.
CB: Marc Bartra (Spain)
After a difficult end to the domestic season at Barcelona, Bartra perhaps arrived in Israel with a point to prove. If that was the case, he certainly did so. Alongside Iñigo Martínez, he formed the strongest central defensive partnership in the tournament. Up until the final against Italy, Bartra was rarely troubled, but when called upon defended impeccably. In the four appearances he made, he averaged just 0.5 fouls per game. On the ball, he was equally impressive. Martínez was usually the defender who built from the back, but Bartra was also comfortable in possession. He averaged 79.8 passes at a success rate of 93.4%.
CB: Matteo Bianchetti (Italy)
Bianchetti’s partnership with Luca Caldirola was excellent for much of the competition. But as the Brescia-loanee lost focus against Spain, it was Bianchetti who held Italy together with a series of key blocks and interceptions. The Inter-owned stopper was Italy’s youngest outfield player, while the Azzurrini’s Group A opener against England was his debut. Despite this, he demonstrated great maturity and was consistently solid throughout. Renowned for a no nonsense approach, he also showed his ability on the ball, providing a wonderful assist for Ciro Immobile, against Spain. Bianchetti will likely be a cornerstone of the side that will attempt to qualify for 2015, in Czech Republic.
LB: Alberto Moreno (Spain)
The Sevilla-owned full-back had licence to get forward and took full advantage. Throughout the competition he was a constant threat from the left, with Martín Montoya equally so on the right. Both full-backs gave Spain another dimension, with Moreno particularly impressing. His ability to recover quickly ensured teams really found space in behind him, while he was rarely flustered defending one on one situations. Moreno averaged 3.8 interceptions per game – the most of any Spanish player, while only Asier Illarramendi and Montoya made more tackles. He also assisted Álvaro Morata’s winner against Germany.
CM: Asier Illarramendi (Spain)
Isco and Thiago Alcântara got the headlines, but Illarramendi’s influence cannot be underestimated. He was arguably Spain’s most important player. Sitting in midfield, he broke up counter-attacks, whilst also initiating play from the back. His contributions were often subtle, but vital, as he ensured the more creative players were regularly in possession. Positionally, he was excellent, filling in for Thiago as the Barcelona midfielder roamed and ensuring the midfield held it’s shape. He featured in every game, averaging 82.4 passes at an accuracy of 95.1%. Billed as Xabi Alonso’s heir at Real Sociedad, he will soon be pushing him in the national team.
CM: Alessandro Florenzi (Italy)
The Roma midfielder had an excellent tournament. Despite fast becoming a regular with the full national side, his appetite and desire at this level was unrivaled. He featured in every game, scoring a lovely goal against Israel. Perhaps not the most technically gifted player, Florenzi’s reserves of energy and understanding of his role were key to Italy’s success. He showed versatility – playing in both central midfield and on the right, while he was equally comfortable supporting the attack as protecting his defence. Had he converted past David de Gea in the final, with the scores level, his tournament may have got even better.
CM: Thiago Alcântara (Spain)
The Spanish play-maker came to the forefront with an outstanding first half hat-trick against Italy. His contributions in the earlier rounds though, were equally important. Thiago’s ability to dictate play and set the tempo for Spain was crucial to their success, while his combinations with Isco were excellent. He averaged 84.8 passes per game at an accuracy of 93.2%. He provided one assist – for Álvaro Morata against Russia, while only Isco made more key passes for La Furia Roja. Thiago’s understanding with his fellow midfielders was exceptional and his constant movement made him difficult to track. He may have saved the best till last, but was excellent throughout the tournament.
RW: Georginio Wijnaldum (Netherlands)
Wijnaldum may not have been used in his natural position – he usually plays in the centre, but the PSV midfielder was still a constant threat for Netherlands. His ability to run with the ball at pace and drift inside made him one of the most exciting and watchable players on show in Israel. He netted twice, against Germany and Russia, and ended the tournament as joint-top scorer for the Dutch, alongside Leroy Fer. His goal against Germany, in particular, was a wonderful demonstration of his abilities, as he rode two challenges before beating Bernd Leno (who admittedly fumbled) from just outside the box. Was stifled in the semi-final defeat to Italy.
CF: Álvaro Morata (Spain)
He may have only started two games, but Morata’s impact both as a substitute and from the start was key to Spain’s success. His four goal contribution earned him the Golden Boot. He also provided two assists and netted both winners in the 1-0 victorious against Russia and Germany. His deceptive pace and movement made him impossible to handle at times – most notably in the final against Italy. Julen Lopetegui’s loyalty to Rodrigo was understandable, but he couldn’t match Morata’s influence. The Real Madrid-owned forward was uncapped at under-21 level before this tournament. He will now be looking towards the full national team.
LW: Isco (Spain)
Isco, at times, looked too good for this tournament. The Málaga midfielder was a joy to watch as he tricked and teased his way around the pitch. His starting position was often from the left, but he had freedom to roam and come inside. He scored three goals, including a wonderful strike against Norway, while he also made the most key passes per game for Spain – 3.8, and averaged the most crosses. He was the extra star quality that the other teams lacked, playing a key role in all five of Spain’s matches.
Substitutes: Francesco Bardi (Italy), Ørjan Nyland Håskjold (Norway), Iñigo Martínez (Spain), Martín Montoya (Spain), Ricardo van Rhijn (Netherlands), Marco Verratti (Italy), Kevin Strootman (Netherlands), Lewis Holtby (Germany), Lorenzo Insigne (Italy), Ola John (Netherlands), Ciro Immobile (Italy), Marcus Pedersen (Norway).