Italy U-21 finally broke a spell made of multiple setbacks against the same-aged Spaniards, defeating Luis de la Fuentes’ side 3-1 on Sunday in their opening match in Group A of the U-21 European Championship. The young Azzurri came from behind to level Dani Ceballos’ lead with a double by Federico Chiesa, before setting the score with a penalty by Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Italians are fond of ambitious sobriquets, and in the past days had been dubbing coach Luigi Di Biagio’s selection as “one of the most talented U-21 squads ever seen” in the Peninsula. One thing is for sure: Di Biagio’s roster’s experience is above average for the category, with many of his starters having already tasted the Azzurri’ s regular selection.
Gianluca Mancini, Niccolo’ Barella, and Federico Chiesa had just re-joined the U-21 group after playing for the Nazionale Maggiore only a few days earlier, whereas Moise Kean and Niccolo’ Zaniolo – who were part with Chiesa of a stellar trident – had made their debut for Italy in March.
With tonight’s win in Bologna – which they obtained over Spain, as well as over their own fears – the Azzurrini showed they have an encouraging blend of talent and determination, casting away possible doubts about their lack of preparation due to having not played any real game in the past two years. (Italy skipped the Qualifiers and automatically got a spot for the tournament in quality of host country)
The Renato Dall’Ara Stadium offered a perfect scenario for Italy’s redemption against the young Furias Rojas, its 30000 spectators encouraging Di Biagio’s side even before the start on the notes of the National Anthem – which they sang with enthusiasm, but a totally wrong tempo.
Spain were a scary opponent: They had wiped out the Azzurrini’s hopes in the last two occasions they met them in a U-21 European Championship, and the nightmare risked materializing again tonight. Just 9 minutes after referee Serdar Gozubuyuk‘s initial whistle, Real Madrid’s talent Dani Ceballos curled the ball into the top right corner of Alex Meret’s goal. Niccolo’ Barella pressed too soft on Spain’s number 10, leaving him enough space to adjust the ball, and aim at the right spot out of Meret’s reach.
The Azzurrini felt the hit and left control of the game to Spain for most of the first half. Dani Ceballos and Carlos Soler danced through a frightened Italian defense, coming close to score the second – which was missed by Ceballos by just a few inches.
On Italy’s front line, Moise Kean moved a lot but failed to produce any clear chance, whereas Federico Chiesa and Niccolo’ Zaniolo struggled to even see the ball. In the 30th minute, Roma’s winger crashed into Spaniard goalie Unai Simon and received a blow to his head which eventually forced him to abandon the game.
The young Azzurri found the equalizer almost out of nowhere, crushed by an overwhelming 68% ball possession in favor of the Spaniards. Nine minutes before half time, a long-range pass by Niccolo’ Barella found Federico Chiesa on the left flank. Fiorentina’s young star dashed past Alaves’ defender Martin Aguirregabiria to surprise Unai Simon with an accurate shot on his near post, finding the Spanish goalie totally out of position on the occasion.
With the match momentum still balanced, Luigi Di Biagio replaced Moise Kean with Patrick Cutrone in the 59th minute, tasking Milan’s striker to do what he is best at: Changing the course of a match from the bench. Few players can indeed make an impact on a game like the young Rossonero, and just 4 minutes later Cutrone received a pass by Lorenzo Pellegrini in the box, won a tackle with Jorge Meré, and pushed the ball forward for Federico Chiesa to slam it into Spain’s goal.
Roma’s midfielder Pellegrini eventually gained a penalty which he then converted into Italy’s final 3-1 with a central conclusion. Referee Serdar Gozubuyuk resorted to the VAR before punishing Carlos Soler’s push on Lorenzo Pellegrini with an 11-meter-shot. The whole group of Italian substitutes run to hug the soon-to-be father as he celebrated dedicating the goal to his pregnant fiancée.
Italy outclassed Spain to remove a heavy burden off their chests and can look forward to their next test in Group A, on Wednesday against Poland. The Poles also won their opening match, coming from behind to overcome Belgium 3-2. Catching a second win in a row would almost automatically secure the Azzurrini a spot into the Semifinals of the home-hosted tournament.
June 16, 2019 – U-21 European Championship 2019 Group A
ITALY U-21-SPAIN U-21 3-1
SCORERS: 9′ Ceballos (S), 36′ Chiesa (I), 64′ Chiesa (I), 82′ Pellegrini (I, pen)
|ITALY U-21 (4-3-3): Meret; Calabresi, Mancini, Bonifazi (88′ Bastoni), Dimarco; Barella, Mandragora, Pellegrini; Zaniolo (43′ Orsolini), Kean (60′ Cutrone), Chiesa (Audero, Montipò, Pezzella, Tonali, Adjapong, Bonazzoli, Romagna, Locatelli, Murgia) Coach: Di Biagio|
|SPAIN U-21 (4-1-4-1): Simon; Aguirregabiria; J. Vallejo, Jorge Meré, Aaron Martin; Zubeldia (67′ Fornals); Soler, Ceballos, Fabian Ruiz (46′ Merino), Oyarzabal (85′ Rafa Mir); Borja Mayoral (Sivera, Martín Fernández, Nunez, M. Vallejo, Lirola, Pedraza, Olmo, Firpo, Roca) Coach: De la Fuente|
REFEREE: Gozubuyuk (Netherlands)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Calabresi, Zaniolo, Mandragora, Orsolini (I), J. Vallejo, Soler (S)