Saul Niguez scores 3 for Spain to reach European U21 final
KRAKOW, Poland (AP) Saul Niguez scored a second-half hat trick to fire Spain into the final of the Under-21 European Championship with a 3-1 victory over 10-man Italy on Tuesday.
Seeking its fifth title, Spain will meet Germany in Krakow on Friday.
Saul broke the deadlock eight minutes into the second half.
With brilliant control of the ball, Dani Ceballos moved to the center from the left flank, leaving several opponents behind, before presenting a perfect pass for Saul to net with a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Five-time champion Italy managed to answer with Federico Bernardeschi nine minutes later with a low shot from inside the area. Italy already had been reduced to 10 men after Roberto Gagliardini received his second yellow four minutes before the equalizer.
Saul, who become the leading scorer of the tournament with five goals, didn’t waste time and added two more.
In the 65th, the Atletico Madrid player netted with a long distance, left-footed drive for his second and completed his hat trick in the 74th – again with a left-footed strike after capitalizing on Marco Asensio’s pass following his break down the left.
For more than a half, the game looked little like the high-scoring 2013 final between the two that Spain won 4-2 to win the trophy for the fourth time.
With clear goal chances missing, Spain looked dominant with Italy focusing on defense at early stages.
Lorenzo Pellegrini first tested Spain goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 22nd minute with a low attempt as Italy stepped up the pace with three straight corner kicks that followed.
Spain captain Gerard Deulofeu just missed the target, hitting the side of the net in the 31st.