The Under-18 National Team recently picked up a silver medal at the Mediterranean Games, losing 3-2 to Spain in the final. It was a brave display from the Azzurrini, who ultimately lost out following a superb display from Ruiz Ortega.
Played out in front of the FIGC’s vice-commissioner Alessandro Costacurta, the match had an extremely high tempo. The Azzurrini started strong and took the lead through Merola following a wonderful assist from Rauti.
Spain soon responded, although their attacking creativity was limited thanks to the solidity of the Italian defence. However, the equaliser arrived in the 26th minute through Ruiz Ortega.
The second half began with two yellow cards and Spain growing in confidence. Their improved play soon paid dividends as the La Roja went 2-1 up following a well-taken goal from Ruiz.
Coach Franceschini knew he had to act, introducing Biancu and Babbi to try an instil some freshness up front. A glorious Portanova header brought the Italians back level in the 88th minute but Ruiz broke Azzurrini hearts with a winner right at the death.
“We haven’t lost gold,” said Alessandro Costacurta after the final. “But rather we’ve won silver. It needed a different approach and it was a crazy experience in terms of the team’s development. I think that the future is bright for Italian football.
“The lads went through a number of difficulties during this tournament, but they did really well, as demonstrated today. It’s clear that they played against a stronger team, one who came runners-up at the World Cup and triumphed at the Euros. However, this experience can help close the gap for next year.”
As for Coach Franceschini, he was delighted with how his squad performed: “We need to praise the lads. We gave everything and it was an exciting tournament. It’s obvious that we were suffering from a bit of tiredness towards the end, but we also need to give credit to our opposition. We leave with our heads held high.”