Feature Photo: AFP / Getty Images
Come on, Italy, there is some hope for the future. Coach Paolo Nicolato’s Azzurrini lost an incredibly entertaining Under 19 Championship Final in Seinajoki, Finland, succumbing 3-4 to Portugal after extra time. A double by Moise Kean and a header by Gianluca Scamacca were not enough for Italy to conquer the European throne again, 15 years after their last Under 19 win.
But the young Azzurri left the Finnish artificial turf pitch with their heads held high, managing to come from behind twice and give a really hard time to a very promising Portuguese football generation, which had already conquered the Under 17 Championship two years ago. Portugal thus earned their first Under 19 title, after losing the last act three times in the past years.
Their young prospects Francisco Trincao from Braga and Joao “Jota” Filipe from Benfica pushed their side ahead scoring five goals each during the tournament, and the latter literally drove the Italian defense crazy last night, with a brace and a shot that propitiated Portugal’s second goal. What a player!
Italy, on the other hand, paid a remissive approach in the first half, and maybe coach Nicolato’s choice of leaving on the bench Moise Kean and Christian Capone – the two strikers that had scored during the Azzurrini’s sensational 2-0 win over favorite France in the Semi Final. When Kean was sent in for an abulic Andrea Pinamonti, it took only two minutes for him to score twice, and level the double gap that the Portuguese had put together.
Goalkeeper Alessandro Plizzari had a rough night. A thankless job, his one: The Milan home-grown goalie saved all he could in the first 45 minutes, deflecting shots by Joao Filipe, Domingos Quina, and David Carmo. But when Benfica’s 19-year-old striker surprised him with a non-irresistible shot during the first half stoppage time, the game suddenly took a bad turn for him.
Joao Filipe tested him again in the 71st minute, his deflection came short, and Trincao could tap the ball in for Portugal’s 0-2, virtually shipping the trophy to Lisbon. But Moise Kean couldn’t agree less, and made it even for Italy in the space of exactly two minutes. First, he caught a sublime heel pass by Capone to deliver a surgical low range shot in the far corner on the right of keeper Joao Virginia.
Then, he caught a suggestion from the left side by Nicolò Zaniolo, and anticipated a stunned Portuguese defense to make it two for the Azzurrini, and drag his opponents back to square one. Kean’s celebration, his shirt off to show a ripped body, resembled so much Mario Balotelli’s famed rejoicing after scoring his second goal to Germany in a Euro 2012 Semi Final. Let’s hope that the Juventus-based talent, who shares African roots with Super Mario, didn’t also inherit his fellow countryman’s turbulent personality.
Moise Kean has already tallied 3 caps with Juventus, scoring 1 goal, and 24 caps plus 6 goals with Hellas Verona, where he spent the last season on loan. In November 2016, he became the first player born in the 2000s to make an appearance in one of Europe’s five major leagues, as well as in Champions League. He is currently back to Juventus, and it will be interesting to see what the Bianconeri are going to do with him…
At full time, coach Nicolato pulled out Brescia’s midfielder Sandro Tonali, who fought, hit hard and was hit hard, and left the pitch exhausted. The 19-year-old looks like a less technical, but tougher Andrea Pirlo, who also started his career at Brescia and who also has a slight physical resemblance to him…
But it was Portugal to take the lead once again during extra time, and once again resorting to their jewel Joao Filipe. This time, the Portuguese number 7 rapidly turned around in the box, and burst a sharp right foot drive shot that bent Plizzari’s hand. The young goalie could have done better even on this occasion, but it would be unfair to be hard on somebody who played a key role in Italy’s march up to the Final.
After defending the goal of Serie B club Ternana last year, Alessandro Plizzari recently came back to Milan, where he could spend the next season playing as second or third choice goalkeeper. The future is on his side.
The man who gave the Azzurrini another chance is Gianluca Scamacca, 19 years and already a few football stories to tell his grandchildren – including a two-year stint at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and a comeback to Italy in 2017 to wear the jersey of Sassuolo. Scamacca, mostly invisible until that point, received a cross by right back Raoul Bellanova in the 107th minute, and converted it with a majestic header to bring Italy to 3-3.
But this time, the balance lasted less than one minute, as substitute Pedro Correia immediately pushed the red side ahead again, taking advantage of a weak opposition by Italian defenders Nicolò Zaniolo and Gianmaria Zanandrea. And that is how the match ended, with the Azzurrini hit too hard on the morale to try to equalise once again.
It ended with Portugal lifting the trophy for the first time in their history, and Italy having to suffer the second youth championship defeat in two months, after losing to the Netherlands on penalties in the Under 17 Euro Final in May. But with the Azzurri’s rebirth still being a work-in-progress, it’s good to know that there is some talent among the young lines.
We just need to leave our youth some space to play in Serie A, as former Football Federation President Carlo Tavecchio once attempted to argue – with controversial results.
July 29, 2018 – Under 19 European Championship Final
ITALY-PORTUGAL 3-4 after extra time
SCORERS: 45′ Joao Filipe (P), 71′ Trincao (P), 74′ Kean (I), 75′ Kean (I), 104′ Joao Filipe (P), 107′ Scamacca (I), 108′ Pedro Correia (P)
|ITALY (4-3-3): Plizzari; Tripaldelli (65′ Candela), Zanandrea, Bettella, Bellanova; Zaniolo, Tonali (92′ Marcucci), Frattesi; Melegoni (59′ Capone), Pinamonti (46′ Kean), Scamacca (Cerofolini, Brignola, Del Prato, Gabbia, Mallamo) Coach: Nicolato|
|PORTUGAL (4-3-3): Joao Virginia; Vinagre, David Carmo, Romain Correia, Thierry Correia; Quina (91′ Nuno Santos), Florentino, Nuno Nunes; Joao Filipe (120′ Francisco Moura), José Gomes (83′ Mesaque Dju), Trincao (101′ Pedro Correia) (Benjamin, Diogo Queiròs, Teixeira, Elves Baldé) Coach: Hélio Sousa|
REFEREE: Munuera (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Zanandrea, Zaniolo, Frattesi, Pinamonti, Tonali, Kean (I), Joao Filipe, José Gomes, Nuno Santos (P)