Spain claimed the European U-19 Championship title with a deserved 1-0 victory over Turkey thanks to a superb stoppage-time winner from substitute Borja Valero. The dramatic denouement echoed the meeting between the teams at the group stage when coach Armando Ufarte's Spanish side won 3-2 with a goal in added time.
View the profiles of the six qualifiers
A 6,000 crowd at UEFA headquarters in Nyon saw a predominantly tactical battle in the first half enlivened by the dangerous incursions of Spain's Soldado, who was unlucky not to score with a seventh-minute volley. The Madrid youngster was ably supported on the right flank by precise build-up play from Juanfran. Turkey, who had clinically accepted the chances on offer in their 3-2 semi-final victory over Switzerland, rarely threatened before the interval as the Spanish defence efficiently smothered any danger.
The introduction of Emry Aygün at half-time breathed new life into the Turkish effort, and Genclerbirligi striker Ali Öztürk was a shade unlucky not to add to his total for the tournament with two shots early in the second period.
Spain increased the tempo towards the end only for Valero to drive wide and Albiol to head against the outside of the post. Then with extra time beckoning, Soldado set up Valero, who weaved his way into the box before producing a world-class lob from 15 metres over keeper Sener Özcan to seal the title for his side.
Valero: "Best goal of my career"
"We deserved to win against strong opponents because we created more chances," Ufarte commented afterwards.
"That was the best and most important goal I've ever scored, I'm ecstatic," added the match winner.
Turkey assistant coach Müjat Yalman made no secret of his disappointment: "It's always devastating when you concede a goal in the last few seconds, but that's football for you."
Neither side had a particularly easy path to the final. Spain needed a penalty shoot-out to overcome Ukraine after their semi-final finished 2-2 at the end of extra time, while Turkey defeated Switzerland 3-2, also after extra time, after the Swiss squandered a string of presentable opportunities in the first half.
The defeated semi-finalists exited the tournament with heads held high after turning in convincing displays. "Obviously we're disappointed, but just reaching the semi-finals is a positive achievement," Ukraine assistant coach Yevgen Kotelnikov observed.
Switzerland coach Pierre-André Schürmann was also inclined to look on the bright side: "I'm proud of my players, they gave everything they had and showed great character after going behind."
Pre-tournament favourites Italy and Germany failed to survive the group stage after disappointing campaigns, although both earned the consolation of qualifying for the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 with third-place finishes in their respective groups.
Italy coach Paolo Berretini tried hard to put a positive spin on his side's early exit: "Our 4-0 victory in the last group game against Belgium at least showed what we're really made of. Naturally I'm disappointed as we'd like to have stayed in Switzerland a little longer."
"I can't criticise my players; we made chances against Turkey but failed to take them," commented Germany coach Dieter Eilts.
U-19 tournament provides vital experience
Poland and Belgium missed out on qualifying for the 2005 world event with last place group finishes but their coaching staff were not overly disappointed. "We've worked very hard over the last two years but we were a little unlucky here. My hope is we'll see one or two of these players in the senior ranks before too long," Poland boss Andrzej Zamilski remarked.
"My players have picked up useful experience at this tournament, although I have to say I'd hoped for more. But our highly-regarded defence failed to meet expectations here," lamented Belgian counterpart Marc van Geersom.
The FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 holds out the exciting prospect of another look at many of the promising youngsters who began to unveil their potential in Switzerland. Expect to hear a lot more of Turkey's Ali Öztürk, Juanfran of Spain, Switzerland's Johan Djourou and Riccardo Montolivo of Italy, to name just a few.