Borja Mayoral scored a hat-trick as Albert Celades’s Spanish U21 side beat Northern Ireland on Thursday evening.
Only the winners of the nine groups, plus hosts Italy, will qualify automatically for the 2019 European Under-21 Championship finals, and Spain have taken another step in the right direction.
The opening exchanges of Thursday’s game were quite even, but Spain took the lead after 14 minutes when Mikel Oyarzabal found the back of the net with a low effort.
Northern Ireland did level thanks to a penalty following a foul by Mikel Merino, but the Newcastle United man made up for his error, finding Oyarzabal, who scored his second just before half time.
However, the home side did level again just moments later and the game headed into the break at 2-2.
Less than two minutes into the second half and Mayoral scored the first of his three on the night, thanks to clever work from Carlos Soler.
Northern Ireland levelled once more, but Mayoral added two more to seal all three points for Celades’ men, in what is arguably their hardest game in Group B.
The win also sees Spain make it five out of five in qualification, topping the group with 15 points out 15.