Spain and the Netherlands advanced to the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-21 Championship in Israel on Sunday with two convincing performances that eliminated Germany and Russia.
Spain relied on a solitary goal from Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata to beat Germany in Netanya, while the Netherlands were far more expansive in a 5-1 drubbing of Russia, who played most of the second half of their match in Jerusalem with 10 men.
With one game still to play, Netherlands and Spain are now tied on six points at the top of Group B after two wins from their opening two matches, while Germany and Russia are both out of contention with no points.
Germany defended well for much of the match, but did little to threaten the Spain goal and eventually conceded in the 86th minute.
Morata, who also headed the winner against Russia on Thursday last week, cut in from the left and found the net with a shot that deflected in off the leg of Germany goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
“The team played a fantastic match against a great side, and showed character, ambition and personality. I am very proud of the lads,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui told a press conference. “I did not expect to qualify so soon. All our energy is focused on the Netherlands game now. We will prepare with a great deal of care.”
The Netherlands, who scored a 90th-minute winner to defeat Germany 3-2 on Thursday last week, again showed their quality and discipline as they crushed Russia, who looked threatening early on.
The breakthrough came in the 38th minute when talented right-sided midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum blasted a long-range shot which beat Russia goalkeeper Nikolai Zabolotni.
Russia stayed in the encounter, but their hopes of finding an equalizer were dealt a blow when Nikita Chicherin was shown a red card for a tackle from behind on Adam Maher in the 49th minute.
The Netherlands looked to have the match wrapped up when they scored again in the 61st minute as Luuk de Jong of Borussia Moenchengladbach headed in easily from a Wijnaldum cross from the right.
Russia did not give up, though, and in the 65th minute Denis Cheryshev reduced the arrears following a period of concerted pressure on the Netherlands goal. It was all they could muster, though, as the talented Netherlands players started to punch holes in their defense.
The Oranje scored three more times through Ola John in the 69th minute, and substitutes Danny Hosen in the 83rd and Leroy Fer in the second minute of stoppage-time.
Spain and the Netherlands face each other in the final Group B match tomorrow to determine their position in the group, while Germany face Russia in a “dead” fixture.
In today’s Group A matches, Italy, who have qualified, meet Norway and Israel, who have a theoretical chance of advancing, meet England.