The mood around Coverciano has certainly improved in the 18 months since the Azzurri’s disastrous failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. For starters, the senior national team has taken on a new identity under CT Roberto Mancini; winning all four of its Euro 2020 qualifiers to date. Additionally, the women’s team qualified for its first World Cup in 20 years and promptly left a mark on the tournament by upsetting sixth ranked Australia in dramatic fashion. That success has trickled down to the youth ranks, as well. The men’s U20 advanced to the semifinal round of the World Cup before falling to Ukraine 1-0 amidst some controversy.
However, as exciting as it is to have the women back in the World Cup and the U20 side coming close to a trophy, the team with the best shot at winning big could be Luigi Di Biagio’s U21 side. The Azzurrini will be kicking off the U21 European Champions on Sunday; a tournament which will be played on home soil. Home field advantage can never be overlooked, but this side is among the favorites less for where the tournament is being played and more for the overwhelming talent on the roster.
Di Biagio has called a side spilling over with talented young players at every position, including two Roma players: Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolò Zaniolo. Besides the two Lupi, the roster boasts the likes of Alex Meret, Gianluca Mancini, Sandro Tonali, Nicolò Barella, Federico Chiesa, Moise Kean, and Riccardo Orsolini; just to name a few.
#U21Euro— Italy (@azzurri) June 6, 2019
The 2️⃣3️⃣ #Azzurrini players called up by Gigi #DiBiagio for the upcoming #Under21 #EuropeanChampionship in #Italy and #SanMarino
16-30 June 2019 #VivoAzzurro #U21 #WeAreYourope @weareyourope pic.twitter.com/3B3XCi4QeN
Having qualified as tournament hosts, the Azzurrini haven’t played a competitive fixture in over a year and recent friendly results haven’t been the greatest. Italy has won only once in its last six matches; losing to Belgium, England, and Germany in that stretch. A run of form that will have to be turned around in a hurry in a tournament where only four teams survive the group stage.
The U21 Euro features three groups and a total of twelve teams with the three group winners and the best second place team advancing to the semifinal round. With so few teams advancing it will be imperative for the Azzurrini to get off to a strong start against Spain when the tournament opens Sunday in Bologna. The Azzurrini and the Spaniards are among the betting favorites to lift the trophy along with England, France, and defending champions Germany. Italy’s other opponents in Group A are Poland and Belgium.
The Azzurrini hold the record for the most European championships won at the U21 level with five. However, its been quite some time since Italy last lifted the trophy back in 2004. If Di Biagio can find a way to properly utilize all of the players at his disposal then a sixth could be in the cards for this talented bunch.
With the senior national team’s rebuild going according to plan, a win at the youth level would be another big step in the renaissance of Italian football. A tournament title could carry over into next year’s senior Euro 2020 with many of the players on this roster already part of the senior Azzurri side. This could end up being much like the 2006 World Cup winning squad which had eight members that won the U21 Euro in either 2000 or 2004. The future of the Italian national team looks promising. Keep an eye on this tournament because it could give us a glimpse into the potential future of the Azzurri.
- Sunday 6/16 ITALY – SPAIN at the Stadio “Dall’Ara” in Bologna 21:00 CET/3:00 EST
- Wednesday 6/19 ITALY – POLAND at the Stadio “Dall’Ara” in Bologna 21:00 CET/3:00 EST
- Saturday 6/22 BELGIUM – ITALY at the Stadio “Città del Tricolore” in Reggio Emilia 21:00 CET/3:00 EST
*Games available through ESPN streaming services in the United States.
Potential Starting XI
Italia (4-3-3): Meret; Adjapong, Bastoni, Mancini, Dimarco; Barella, Mandragora, Pellegrini; Orsolini, Kean, Chiesa