Veneto, who won the first UEFA Regions' Cup in 1999, will be back in next June's finals after qualifying with a flawless record from intermediary round Group 8.
The Italian tournament hosts brushed aside Eastern Finland 6-0, thrashed Western Estonia 7-0 and, finally, defeated Poland's Kujawsko-Pomorski 1-0 in the decisive final group fixture, scoring a total of 14 goals without conceding. Coach Fabrizio Toniutto was understandably delighted.
"This is what we wanted," he said. "We came here with lots of attackers, with this intention, and it paid off." The final match against Kujawsko-Pomorski was "an English-style game" with nobody holding back, understandable given the stakes.
"It was very physical, but it was very sporting and just what we expected," Toniutto added. "Credit to Poland for the way they played."
The focus now turns to the final tournament when Toniutto will be pleased to have a bit more time to prepare. "We didn't have much time on our hands because the season only started a month ago," he said. "But we are a very united group and now have the time to prepare even better for the finals."
It was clear from matchday one that the last group game between the Italian and Polish representatives would be the crucial one. Veneto had put six past Eastern Finland without reply, Francesco Gasparato shining for the hosts with a goal and two shots against the woodwork, while Kujawsko-Pomorski overcame Western Estonia with the 3-0 scoreline not doing their efforts justice.
Veneto continued where they left off when they faced Western Estonia with coach Toniutto rotating his team to give his entire squad some action. The result did not suffer as Silva Michel Pedrozo this time led their attack, scoring one but missing plenty more chances, including two shots off the crossbar. Kujawsko-Pomorski saw off Eastern Finland by the same 3-0 margin as in their first match, meaning they had to beat Veneto to progress whereas a draw was enough for the hosts.
The closing contest was a much sterner test for Veneto with Kujawsko-Pomorski showing total commitment and the hosts not holding back either. After a tense opening 45 minutes, Massimo Zanatta headed over Gasparato's cross. It was then left to Paolo Gagno to notch the decisive goal minutes after coming on. He was brought down in the penalty area and slotted in the 73rd-minute spot kick to earn Veneto victory, the Italians qualifying as group hosts as they did in 1999, when they also staged the finals. Meanwhile, Eastern Finland clinched third place with a 5-1 win over Western Estonia.
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