Seven-goal Italy surge into play-offs

Italy 7-1 Cyprus
Seven players were on target for Italy in 38 minutes as the Azzurrini swept into Friday's play-off draw as qualifying Group 9 winners.

Federico Bernardeschi of Italy under a challenge from Cyprus's Panos Theodorou
Federico Bernardeschi of Italy under a challenge from Cyprus's Panos Theodorou ©Getty Images

Italy emphatically recorded the victory they required against Cyprus to top UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying Group 9.

They did it despite falling behind to visiting captain Pieros Sotiriou's 29th-minute header in Castel di Sangro. The Azzurrini went into the break 2-1 up and then scored five unanswered goals in the second half as they registered their biggest win of a campaign that started with a 3-1 home defeat by Belgium a year ago. Luigi Di Biagio's team will discover their play-off opponents on Friday.

Things started badly for Italy when Nikos Efthimiou, mounting Cyprus's first significant attack, delivered a cross that Sotiriou headed past Francesco Bardi. Federico Bernardeschi equalised with a header of his own from Stefano Sturaro's centre, and better was to come for Italy before the break as Cyprus substitute Antreas Panayiotou inadvertently turned in Davide Zappacosta's cross.

Sturaro gave Italy some breathing space 11 minutes into the second period with a shot from 25 metres that Zannettos Mytidis was powerless to stop, and just after the hour set up Andrea Belotti to make it 4-1.

Jacopo Dezi headed in the fifth ten minutes after his introduction, with Samuele Longo then adding Italy's sixth after some good build-up play by captain Matteo Bianchetti. Daniele Rugani rounded off the scoring ten minutes from time, heading in Bernardeschi's corner.

Luigi Di Biagio, Italy coach
We need to be more convincing, you can’t always come from behind during the matches and we must improve this aspect.  Today we enjoy a wonderful day, the players have to celebrate what they achieved. I don’t know yet which teams are the best runners-up so I can't say which I prefer. I could say the usual "all opponents are good", but will see.

After the goal scored by Cyprus, I told Samuele Longo to warm-up because I wanted my forwards to understand that they were under pressure, because I want much more rythmn. I wanted to send a signal to the players, a warning to attack more strongly.