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By Tim Dykes in Bochum
Claudio Gentile believes Italy's patient approach was the key to the Azzurrini winning the UEFA European Under-21 Championship by defeating Serbia and Montenegro 3-0 in the final on Tuesday. "We took our time," Gentile said. "We waited for our opportunites and took them when they arrived."
Serbia and Montenegro's cause was not helped by the 33rd-minute dismissal of Nikola Mijailovic for his second yellow card moments after unmarked man-of-the-match Daniele De Rossi had given Italy the lead by crashing in a header at the far post from a left-wing corner.
"Their corner kicks outsmarted us," admitted defeated coach Vladimir Petrovic, whose side, like Italy, Portugal and Greece will enter this summer's Olympic Games men's football tournament. "My players were a bit sleepy, especially at the corners and although we tried hard, it was a lesson for us to work even harder at the Olympics."
No way back
Despite De Rossi's goal, Petrovic believed TS Wisla Krákow wing-back Mijailovic's dismissal was the turning point. "
Once one of our players received a red card, there was no way for us to change the game anymore," he added. "It was our fifth match in a row and it was difficult for us."
Regardless of their fatigue, Serbia and Montenegro continued to push for an equaliser until the final ten minutes, when Cesare Bovo found himself stood in the perfect spot to tap in Nikola Milojevic's fumble and Alberto Gilardino beat the hapless goalkeeper to a 50-50 ball before rolling in the conclusive third goal.
By then the Italian fans in the 20,092 crowd had already begun their party and the Serbo-Montenegrin players' tempers boiled over. Eight yellow cards had already been shown before Branislav Ivanovic saw red in the closing stages as Serbia and Montenegro, who beat Italy 1-0 during the championship's qualifying stage, faced up to defeat.
I am delighted for everyone involved," said Gentile, whose side's fourth win in eleven days secured the Azzurrini's fifth tournament triumph in seven attempts - and marked an impressive turnaround after the team had been stunned 2-1 by Belarus on the opening day of the championship.
Gentile reflected: "When we lost the first match against Belarus I said to myself 'We will either make it all the way to the end or we'll be out immediately'. Not many were betting on us after the loss against Belarus, but this team has a thousand resources and has proved it. We were patient and it paid off."
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