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UEFA U21 Championship

Who needs Messi? Fabian Ruiz & Spain underline outstanding potential with Under-21 Euros triumph

23:50 GMT+3 30/06/2019
Fabian Ruiz Spain Germany U21 Euros
La Rojita may not have an all-time great in their ranks but they do have a collection of gifted footballers - chief among them the Napoli midfielder

Jurgen Klopp sent Germany's Under-21s a special video message ahead of Sunday's European Championship final against an extravagantly talented Spain squad.

"Fortunately, about five, six, seven weeks ago, we showed that the Spanish can be beaten – even when they have [Lionel] Messi," the Liverpool boss enthused, alluding to his side's rousing Champions League semi-final defeat of Barcelona.

However, while Spain may not have had Messi on the pitch at a packed Stadio Friuli on Sunday night – or anyone quite like him for that matter – they did have Fabian Ruiz, a man as important to La Rojita as the Argentine is to the Blaugrana, as he made clear in their 2-1 triumph in Udine.

Of course, his influence was obvious in Spain's tournament-opener against Italy, when Fabian was forced off injured at half-time with the game tied at one goal apiece in Bologna. Without their talismanic No.6, La Rojita lost all control in the middle of the park and slumped to a 3-1 defeat.

They needed a late goal to see off Belgium in their next outing but were, unsurprisingly, transformed when Fabian returned to the starting line-up, with the Napoli ace netting a terrific long-range goal in the 5-0 demolition of Poland that sealed Spain's place in the last four.

Fabian followed that up with a delicious no-look assist for Dani Olmo in the 4-1 rout of France in the last four – winning a second consecutive man of the match award in the process – but he was saving the best for last.

There were just seven minutes gone in the final when Fabian took a delightful Mikel Oyarzabal lay-off in his stride before advancing towards the German goal and then bending the ball beautifully past Alex Nubel into the bottom-left corner of the net.

The goal sparked wild celebrations in the stands – and, amusingly, one of the longest 'Gooooool' screams from a Spanish commentator in the press box that one is likely to ever hear – and it was certainly worthy of such unbridled enthusiasm.

It was a stunning strike yet, at the same time, wholly unsurprising, given the identity of the scorer. This, after all, is not just a player of great technique and extraordinary versatility. He also boasts what former Spain Luis Enrique previously described as a "beastly shot".

Unfortunately for Germany, they had no answer to Fabian's demonstration of his deadly accuracy from distance and it was another swing of his left foot that ultimately proved decisive, with Nubel failing to hold a more speculative effort from the Spain midfielder, thus allowing the impressive Dani Olmo to nip in to score with a delightful dinked finish.

The winner of the player of the tournament award exited to a standing ovation soon after and, almost inevitably, Spain looked vulnerable again, allowing Germany to set up an exciting finale thanks to a deflected effort from Nadiem Amiri.

La Rojita held on, though, to gain revenge for their defeat in the 2017 final in Poland, but Germany did themselves and their nation proud. |Not that their heroic effort offered much consolation to them at the full-time whistle; their devastation was understandable.

It was a desperately harsh way for both Nubel – the hero in the come-from-behind semi-final win over Romania – and his previously undefeated side to conclude their campaign.

It evoked memories of the senior side's World Cup final loss to Brazil in 2002 – but, just as on that occasion 25 years ago to do the day, the side with the greater quality had ultimately prevailed. 

Spain may not have a Messi but they once again have an outstanding crop of young players, chief among them the excellent Fabian Ruiz, a player who personifies their incredible potential.