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By Tim Dykes at the Ruhrstadion
Italy charged to their fifth UEFA European Under-21 Championship in seven attempts with an emphatic defeat of nine-man Serbia and Montenegro in Bochum.
Vladimir Petrovic's side were forced to play with a one-man disadvantage for almost an hour after Nikola Mijailovic had been dismissed for his second bookable offence and Daniele De Rossi had thundered in a 31st-minute header. Serbia and Montenegro battled relentlessly but were eventually undone by two goals inside three second-half minutes from Cesare Bovo and Alberto Gilardino as Italy ran away with victory. Branislav Ivanovic then received a red card just before the end.
If Serbia and Montenegro had a sense of injustice at having been squeezed out of their Group A match against Claudio Gentile's Italians eleven days ago, it only grew in the opening exchanges as a string of early decisions went in the Italians' favour. The most costly proved to be Mijailovic's eleventh-minute booking for a foul as Italy broke.
Petrovic's side, fuelled by the quick feet of attacking midfield player Miloš Maric, dominated the first half-hour and both Donadel and De Rossi were booked as the ill-disciplined Italians did their best to weather the storm - then broke at pace to score the opening goal.
One clever touch enabled Gilardino to create space in the Serbo-Montenegrin area and force a corner, which De Rossi rose to meet with an unstoppable 33rd-minute header. It got worse for Serbia and Montenegro two minutes later when Mijailovic's clattering challenge on Mesto by the touchline brought him his second yellow card of the evening.
From then until the interval Gentile's team dominated, Gilardino twice missing the target from close range either side of Giuseppe Sculli, who scored twice against Serbia and Montenegro in the group stage, flashing a half-chance across the face of goal.
Italy midfield player Angelo Palombo drove the ball wide when presented with the first chance of the second half but, despite only having ten men, it was Serbia and Montenegro who enjoyed the majority of chances, their tireless captain Danko Lazovic miscuing a free-kick and half-time substitute Simon Vukcevic curling a hopeful effort over from 20 metres.
Substitute Simone Del Nero thought he had doubled the lead when he stabbed in from an offside position ten minutes from time but the conclusive goals did not take long to arrive. First goalkeeper Nikola Milojevic inexplicably dropped a tame cross and allowed Bovo to tap in, then came the goal of the game.
Gilardino ran on to a 50-50 ball with the goalkeeper and clipped it past him before keeping his feet and rolling the ball over the line to cue ecstatic on-field celebrations from Gentile's men. Distraught and defeated, Ivanovic paid for Serbia and Montenegro frustrations with a late red card for a foul on Del Nero to end a disappointing night.
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