Having failed to qualify for the 2011 finals after losing in the play-offs against Belarus, five-times champions Italy were careful to avoid mistakes this time around.
The Azzurrini started Group 7 with five consecutive wins and lost only once – 4-2 at home against Republic of Ireland – when they had already booked a place in the play-offs. They then beat Sweden 4-2 on aggregate under new coach Devis Mangia, who had replaced the UC Sampdoria-bound Ciro Ferrara after six games in the group. Friendly wins against Germany, Ukraine and Russia in 2013, while keeping all three scoreless, has only helped increase momentum ahead of their Group A kick-off with England on 5 June.
Juventus midfielder Luca Marrone was a key player in the qualifying campaign and did not miss a game, including the play-offs. The defensive line did not change much, while the attack was often reshuffled, mostly because players like Stephen El Shaarawy and Mattia Destro were promoted to the senior team. The latter, however, is in the final squad, and will lead the line alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, who played together for Pescara Calcio before moving to SSC Napoli and CFC Genoa respectively in the summer.
Other Under-21 players like Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi were also called into the senior team by Cesare Prandelli, but this was not a problem for Mangia. "When Prandelli calls up our players, we are happy because it means that we are moving in the right direction," he said. "We are lucky to have a coach like Prandelli who is giving youngsters a chance. We want to play positive football at all levels and I think we are working well in this regard."
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