A marvellous Lorenzo Pellegrini bicycle kick and Andrea Petagna’s left-foot finish saw the Italy Under-21 National Team start on the right foot with a 2-0 win over Denmark. It was an important win to keep the pace with Germany after they beat the Czech Republic in the other match with the group winners and the best runner-up progressing to the semi-finals and Luigi Di Biagio warned beforehand that Italy would treat it as a round of 16 match. With the Senior Team Manager Gian Piero Ventura watching in the stands alongside FIGC CEO Michele Uva, the young Italy side took its first step. It wasn’t pretty as we are used to seeing but the team showed spirit at the right time to get the win as Italy look to defend their record as the most successful team at the tournament with five titles and more history yet to be written.
In Krakow, the Under-21s started in a 4-3-3 formation. Donnarumma was in goal. Conti, Caldara, Rugani and Barreca made up the backline. The captain Benassi was on the right of midfield with Gagliardini and Pellegrini. Berardi and Bernardeschi were the wingers with Petagna up front. Having met seven months ago in a goalless friendly in Bergamo, Denmark were a well-organised side once more as they score few but conceded even less. In qualification they only conceded three goals like Italy and England.
It wasn’t easy for the Azzurrini to find a way through. There were few chances in the first half. A Conti effort in the 21st minute hit the side netting while Benassi saw his right-foot effort from distance saved by the Danish goalkeeper. Italy were comfortable in possession but the tempo was low, in part due to the occasion as the first match at the tournament and in part thanks to the Danes’ defensive approach who left space open on the wings but they were solid in the middle.
Italy had a different approach as they came out for the second half. The tempo was higher as the Azzurrini continued to push down the flanks. It took nine minutes of the second half before the Under-21 side took the lead thanks to a brilliant Pellegrini bicycle kick after Bernardeschi’s pressing.
With the deadlock broken, Di Biagio’s side were able to take control as in qualifying. The side continued to attack and the first change was made in the 66th minute as Chiesa came on for Berardi who went off to applause. Six minutes later, Benassi was replaced by Grassi.
Denmark also attempted to change things from the bench. The coach Frederiksen went for it as he made attacking changes and Donnarumma was forced into his first save. Italy continued to look for a second goal and Andrea Petagna had a couple of sights of goal after some clever individual skill. Eventually, his goal came in the 84th minute as Chiesa played in a cross from the left which he turned home after getting in front of his marker. He then left the pitch to applause with Cerri taking his place up front.
Di Biagio hugged all of his players after the final whistle. “By knowing Denmark well, we knew that it would be difficult,” he said. “It was a tense game, we didn’t play very well but I didn’t have any doubts in the group. We played too compact in the final 30 metres and this is something that we must improve. In the second half, we were more confident and upped the tempo and a great goal arrived. Once the deadlock was broken, we made it 2-0 and that’s a great start.”
It was a great start also for Lorenzo Pellegrini as he scored a superb goal. “I’m very happy, it was a great feeling to break the deadlock and get such an important result for us,” said the Sassuolo midfielder. “We knew that it was important to win today, but we weren’t able to break the deadlock. In the second half, we started again with new energy. We found more of a rhythm and in the end we achieved our goal.”
On Wednesday, Italy will be back in action against the Czech Republic at 18:00 CEST in Tychy.