Italy remain on course for a record sixth UEFA European Under-21 Championship crown after securing their place in Tuesday's final against Spain thanks to a narrow victory over the Netherlands.
The Jong Oranje failed to take advantage of their first-half superiority, with Adam Maher hitting a post and Daley Blind testing Francesco Bardi from long range. The Group B runners-up were then punished after the break when Fabio Borini turned and finished with aplomb to send Italy into their first final since claiming a fifth U21 title in 2004.
Cor Pot reverted to the same starting XI with which the Jong Oranje had won their two opening group games and the players rewarded him with an assured start. Confident in possession, the two-time trophy winners controlled the early exchanges and came within a whisker of the opening goal after five minutes. Maher's curling free-kick cannoned back of the top of the right-hand post after Marco Verratti was penalised for handball on the edge of the area.
Netherlands captain Kevin Strootman was pulling the strings in midfield, repeatedly trying to get Georginio Wijnaldum and Ola John free in wide areas to attack the Italy full-backs and it was the latter who played a part in the next chance. The SL Benfica winger cut the ball back to Strootman, whose scuffed shot rolled narrowly past the outstretched legs of Maher and Wijnaldum.
Buoyed by having seen out early Dutch pressure, Italy then forced Jeroen Zoet into his first save in the 31st minute. Ciro Immobile latched on to Lorenzo Insigne's measured pass but the Genoa CFC forward was forced wide by Stefan de Vrij and could only fire straight at the Dutch No1. Undeterred, the Netherlands responded with a shot of their own. Blind found space 30 metres from goal and unleashed a powerful strike which was parried by Bardi into the path of Maher but his goalbound follow-up was blocked by Luca Caldirola.
Pot's charges lost their rhythm after the break and the Azzurrini grew in confidence with Borini dragging a shot wide from distance on 65 minutes after a swift counterattack. The Jong Oranje surged forward themselves soon after but Luuk de Jong's cutback failed to find an advancing midfielder. Yet the tide had turned and Devis Mangia's charges broke the deadlock with 11 minutes remaining.
Insigne slipped the ball into Borini, who turned smartly past substitute Mike van der Hoorn and finished coolly low to Zoet's left. Pot's side threw men forward late on but Leroy Fer, who came off the bench to equal Arnold Bruggink's record as the Netherlands' most-capped player at U21 level, spurned their best chance when heading straight at Bardi from a corner.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.