He has been one of the stories so far in Serie A and now Alessandro Florenzi takes to the international stage as Italy face Sweden for a place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals.
Until last week Florenzi was on the minimum salary in Italy's top division. The AS Roma midfielder was not expected to feature regularly for Zdeněk Zeman's side this term, yet has quickly convinced the coach of his credentials – scoring twice in six league games – to earn himself a new four-year contract.
His position in the Azzurrini lineup has been established a good deal longer and Florenzi has helped them to the play-offs after they won six of their eight Group 7 games to finish top of the section. Now, Devis Mangia's team take on Sweden with the first leg in Pescara on Friday. "It's a crucial game," said Florenzi. "
We have to give everything because there are two years of hard work at stake in just 180 minutes."
A scorer of three goals in ten U21 outings – including one in the 3-0 friendly win against the Netherlands in August – Florenzi and Italy are in good form. "Sweden are a difficult side to face as they don't allow their opponents to play freely," he added. "We will study the videos of their games and try to learn how to limit them. We are fully motivated, I'm sure we will play well and I expect great support from the fans in Pescara."
Like a certain Francesco Totti, Florenzi was originally signed from ASD Lodigiani. The Rome-born 21-year-old enjoyed a standout 2011/12 campaign on loan at FC Crotone in Serie B, being voted best young player in the division.
He struck an impressive 11 goals in 35 matches, and one of Roma's greatest ever players, Bruno Conti, is one of those pleasantly surprised by his displays at a higher level. "
He is small and skinny but never stops running and bites in midfield," Conti said in a recent interview.
Also hoping to make a mark on Friday is SSC Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne – a name Pescara fans know all too well. "Returning here is very emotional," said Insigne, who scored 18 goals in 37 Serie B games for Pescara last term. "The coach expects a lot from me and I'm ready to contribute towards reaching the finals. There are several young players who are playing well in Serie A right now.
We just have to give our very best in the play-offs because I think we could go far in Israel."
Francesco Bardi (Novara Calcio), Simone Colombi (Modena FC), Mattia Perin (Pescara Calcio).
Matteo Bianchetti (FC Internazionale Milano), Luca Caldirola (AC Cesena), Marco Capuano (Pescara Calcio), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Giulio Donati (US Grosseto FC), Paolo Frascatore (US Sassuolo Calcio), Simone Romagnoli (Pescara Calcio), Mario Sampirisi (Genoa CFC).
Marco Crimi (US Grosseto FC), Alessandro Florenzi (AS Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (SSC Napoli), Luca Marrone (Juventus), Fausto Rossi (Brescia Calcio), Jacopo Sala (Hamburger SV), Riccardo Saponara (Empoli FC), Federico Viviani (Calcio Padova).
Fabio Borini (Liverpool FC)*, Giuseppe De Luca (Atalanta BC), Manolo Gabbiadini (Bologna FC), Ciro Immobile (Genoa CFC), Samuele Longo (RCD Espanyol).
*Borini misses both games after a scan revealed a fracture of a bone in his right foot.
Karl-Johan Johnsson (Halmstads BK), Marcus Sandberg (Ljungskile SK).
Miiko Albornoz (Malmö FF), Joseph Baffo (Helsingborgs IF), Erdin Demir (SK Brann), Pontus Jansson (Malmö FF), Mattias Johansson (AZ Alkmaar), Tom Pettersson (Åtvidabergs FF), Ludvig Öhman (Kalmar FF), Joel Allansson (IFK Göteborg).
Mervan Celik (Pescara), Jiloan Hamad (Malmö FF), Oscar Hiljemark (IF Elfsborg), Niklas Hult (IF Elfsborg), Jakob Johansson (IFK Göteborg), Oscar Lewicki (BK Häcken), Marcus Rohdén (IF Elfsborg), Simon Thern (Malmö FF), Astrit Ajdarevic (Royal Standard de Liège).
Samuel Armenteros (Heracles Almelo), Viktor Claesson (IF Elfsborg), Mikael Ishak (1. FC Köln), Rasmus Jönsson (VfL Wolfsburg).
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