Spain U21 boss: Italy will push us to limit
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui talked up opponents Italy as his highly fancied 'La Rojita' team prepared for Tuesday evening's European Under-21 Championship final.
Spain have eased through the competition so far, winning all four games while scoring eight goals and conceding none, with Lopetegui also able to give all of his outfield squad members some minutes on the pitch.
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper said he nonetheless considered Tuesday's decider at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium would be a stiff test, given it is a final, against Spain's old rivals and Mediterranean neighbours.
"I expect an Italy which will push us to the limit," Lopetegui said at Monday's pre-game press conference. "[They were] a team with many alternatives in their attacking phases, and with very few gaps, or maybe none, in their defence. It is a final, against Italy. They have players with experience, of a very high level. We are tremendously excited. This is a final."
The tournament's outstanding individual so far has been Malaga starlet Isco, whose two goals and spectacular array of feints, passes and shots have reportedly helped solidify interest from both Manchester City and Real Madrid. Lopetegui admitted the young playmaker had been impressive, but it was the team's display which mattered.
"We know Isco like the rest of the players, they all have this quality and potential," he said. "Individual talent must be at the service of the collective. We are delighted with Isco's performances, just as with those of all the players at this tournament."
The coach's main selection poser is in attack, where he must decide whether to stick with Benfica's Rodrigo, who scored his first goal of the tournament in the 3-0 semi-final win over Norway, or bring in Real Madrid's Alvaro Morata, who netted his fourth in four games after coming off the bench late on in Saturday's match.
"I have not decided the XI yet," Lopetegui said. "We always think about what is the best for the team. Not just Morata has a chance of making the starting team, but many others too. We will see. Each player must also be ready for if they have to come in off the bench at any moment."
The side's displays - particularly the composed way midfielders Isco, Thiago Alcantara, Koke and Asier Illarramendi control games through possession of the ball - has led many pundits to compare them to Vicente del Bosque's all conquering Spanish senior side.
Lopetegui said he and his players were flattered by any such comparisons.
"The senior side is a source of inspiration," he said. "It is an exemplary team in many ways and we are delighted that they are our first team."