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Romania and Italy make strides

Last season's finals hosts Romania made a solid start to their 2011/12 campaign, the 2003 champions Italy joining them in earning a top-two finish from Group 3 in Sweden.

Romania's Florentin Matei (left) challenges Kristoffer Thydell of Sweden
Romania's Florentin Matei (left) challenges Kristoffer Thydell of Sweden ©Carin Rudehill/Hallands Nyheter

The 2010/11 UEFA European Under-19 Championship hosts Romania made a solid start to their bid for a finals return, going through alongside Italy from qualifying round Group 3.

Romania collected only one point in last summer's tournament but seized control of the section from the outset thanks to a 2-1 opening win against 2003 champions Italy. Striker Cristian Gavra got the decisive goal deep into added time to get Ovidiu Stângă's side off to a perfect start and the Romania No9 was also the match winner in the second round of fixtures, scoring all three goals as Azerbaijan were beaten 3-0 and qualification for the elite round was secured with a game to spare.

Azerbaijan nevertheless lay second heading into the third and final round of matches having opened with a 1-0 defeat of Sweden, who shared a 1-1 draw with Italy next time out. A point against the Azzurrini would therefore have taken Azerbaijan into the next stage, yet they were up against it from the moment goalkeeper Orkhan Sadigli was sent off in the 11th minute. Valerio Verre converted the resulting penalty and, though Rahman Hajiyev brought Azerbaijan level from the spot midway through the second period, Alberigo Evani's Italy snatched victory three minutes into added time thanks to Amato Ciciretti's goal.

That strike, coupled with the goalless draw between Romania and hosts Sweden in the other matchday three fixture, left Italy in second place on four points, one more than Azerbaijan and two above Sweden.