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Norway chase semi-final spot against Italy

Published: Sunday 9 June 2013, 0.17CET
Norway take on Italy in their third and final Group A fixture in Tel Aviv looking to secure their place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals.
Norway chase semi-final spot against Italy
Norway's win over England has left them on the verge of a semi-final place ©Sportsfile

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Published: Sunday 9 June 2013, 0.17CET

Norway chase semi-final spot against Italy

Norway take on Italy in their third and final Group A fixture in Tel Aviv looking to secure their place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals.

Norway take on Italy in their third and final Group A fixture in Tel Aviv looking to secure their place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals.

• Tor Ole Skullerud's team need only a point to make absolutely sure of progress after moving three points clear of third-placed Israel when beating England 3-1 in their second group fixture on Saturday. Indeed, they could even afford to lose unless Israel defeat England and there is at least a six-goal swing. As for Devis Mangia's Italy, their victories over England and Israel mean they are already assured a semi-final spot with a game to spare, but they still need a draw to wrap up first place.

• The countries have met in four competitive U21 games to date – all in qualifying – and recorded two wins apiece.

Previous meetings
• Their most recent competitive encounters came on the road to the 2006 finals, with each side winning their home fixture. Goals from Alberto Aquilani (19) and Giampaolo Pazzini (38) gave Italy a 2-0 success in Trapani on 3 September 2004 before Bjørn Helge Riise scored the only goal of the return in Drammen on 3 June the following year. It was Italy, however, who went on to the final tournament in Portugal as Group 5 winners with Norway finishing third.

• Italy also came out on top overall when the teams met in qualifying for the 1992 finals, despite a 6-0 loss in Stavanger on 5 June 1991. The Azzurrini's 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture on 13 November that year, achieved thanks to two first-half goals from Alessandro Melli, gave them first place in Group 3. Azeglio Vicini's side went on to claim the first of their five U21 titles with a final defeat of Sweden.

• Italy were also 3-0 friendly winners in Foggia in September 1985.

Match background
• This is only Norway's second finals appearance and their first since the 1998 event in Romania. Then, having qualified ahead of France, they defeated Sweden 1-0 in the quarter-finals thanks to a Steffen Iversen goal but lost by the same scoreline to Spain in the last four. Nils Johan Semb's side bounced back to defeat the Netherlands 2-0 in the third place play-off, however, Iversen scoring in each half (17, 74) to secure the spoils.

• The Scandinavian side lost three times in qualifying – twice to England, to whom they finished second in Group 8, and then in the first leg of their play-off against France, but a 5-3 home victory in the decider gave them a 5-4 aggregate success.

• Having overseen Norway's qualifying campaign, Per Joar Hansen departed for Rosenborg BK in December; the following month, his former assistant Skullerud was named his successor as U21 coach.

• Italy did not qualify in 2011, the first time they had missed out on the final tournament since 1998. The Azzurrini were champions in 1992, 1994, 1996 – the only team to win three successive U21 titles – 2000 and 2004 and reached the semi-finals on their last appearance four years ago.

• The five-time U21 champions saw off Sweden 4-2 on aggregate in the play-offs and lost only one of their ten qualifiers, winning eight.

Team ties
• Norway striker Jo Inge Berget joined Udinese Calcio from Lyn Fotball in 2008, but did not make a first-team appearance for the Italian side. Loan spells back at Lyn and with Strømsgodset IF preceded a permanent move to Molde FK in 2011.

Norway news
• The Norway squad relaxed after Saturday's win against England with an afternoon trip to a beach cafe in Herzliya where they attended a function hosted by the Norwegian embassy.

• Defender Fredrik Semb Berge limped off against England with a knock but the Norway medical staff confirmed it was not a serious problem and he should be fit for Tuesday's final group fixture against Italy.

• Håvard Nordtveit, a late substitute against England after flying in from Tirana in the early hours of Saturday, admitted the squad are full of confidence. "Now we are a bit high after beating England – one year ago they were ranked No1 – but we need to come down to earth again and be prepared for the next game which will be hard," he said. "In 1998 we finished third. Nothing is impossible."

Italy news
• The morning after the Israel win, the players who took part in the 4-0 win had a light workout in the swimming pool, while the rest of the squad attended a regular training session.

• Coach Devis Mangia gave the afternoon off to the whole squad and a delegation from the national team took the opportunity to visit Jerusalem.

• Lorenzo Insigne was taken to hospital on Saturday night after being carried off the pitch on a stretcher against Israel. Tests showed that he had not suffered a fracture but has sprained his left ankle and he will be monitored over the next few days.

• After two wins in a row, goalkeeper Luca Bardi is looking forward to continuing the Azzurrini's good form against a "tough team" in Norway.  "We want to finish the group stage in the best possible way," he said. "Then we will focus on the semi-finals. It does not matter which team we will face if we play with this good attitude."

Last updated: 10/06/13 11.06CET