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Wilfried Gnonto on his Italy journey and facing Spain in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals – interview

"They are a young team like us, so I think we can take them on," says Wilfried Gnonto as Italy prepare to face Spain in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals.

Wilfried Gnonto is Italy's youngest ever scorer
Wilfried Gnonto is Italy's youngest ever scorer UEFA via Getty Images

"It was very exciting and unexpected," says Wilfried Gnonto on his call-up to the senior Italy team at the start of their UEFA Nations League campaign.

Becoming Italy's youngest-ever goalscorer on his fourth appearance, the 19-year-old is relishing his "incredible, priceless" opportunity in Roberto Mancini's youthful Azzurri squad. Ahead of Italy's UEFA Nations League semi-final with Spain at FC Twente Stadion on 15 June, he sat down with UEFA.com to share his story so far.

Spain vs Italy: Latest updates

On Italy's 2022/23 UEFA Nations League semi-final against Spain

Spain are a strong team. They play a lot with the ball, they try to create a lot of chances. They are a young team like us, so I think we can take them on. They have a lot of good, young players. For example, I really like Gavi and Pedri. What they are doing at their age is incredible.

On his Italy senior squad call-up and making his debut

The first time they called me was for a two-day placement in Coverciano. I was offered that when I was at home with my parents. I have to say, it was very exciting and unexpected. [Getting my first official call to play] was unbelievable because I wasn’t expecting it. I was happy just to be there, to have the chance to play with some players that only shortly before I had been watching on TV. I enjoyed every moment, and it went well too.

Before [my debut in the 1-1 Nations League draw with Germany] I was quite nervous, but once I got onto the pitch, I tried to be as relaxed as possible, and simply to play my style of football. Luckily it went well.

Highlights: Italy 1-1 Germany

On becoming Italy's youngest goalscorer aged 18 years 222 days

I had mixed emotions. Let’s just say, I was a little sad about the game because we lost [5-2 against Germany in the league phase]. Later though, I had time to realise what had happened, and for me, as well as for my family, this was a huge source of pride. I think about it often. It's the first goal I scored for the national team, and I will treasure it for my whole life.

Highlights: Germany 5-2 Italy

On Italy coach Roberto Mancini

He's a legend, and I don't have to tell you everything he's done for football. He gives me a lot of advice. I try to learn as much as I can, to take every piece of advice he gives me, and I hope I will improve. I'm sure I will.

I still remember him when I was at Inter as a kid, he's always been an idol for me. Having the opportunity to play for him is incredible, priceless. I would say [his strongest characteristic is his] courage because he is taking so many risks with us young players, and I hope that I and everyone else can give something back.

On his biggest inspirations in Italian football

I grew up in Baveno, and I loved watching the national team. Italian football has always been my dream and I always hoped to play for the national team.

The strongest memories I have are probably of Mario Balotelli playing in the national team jersey. I vividly remember UEFA EURO 2012. I used to watch it with my friends, and it gave me such an incredible feeling.

Balotelli's 2012 semi-final stunner for Italy

On his Italy team-mates

It's a great group. A really nice group. There are a lot of young guys too, so it's easy to settle in. It's not a big change. I try to learn a bit from everyone. Maybe in terms of a role model, I would say Giacomo Raspadori because he has some similar characteristics to me.

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