The two most successful EURO U21 teams meet in Bologna as host Italy kick off Group A against Spain.
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The two most successful teams in UEFA European Under-21 Championship history meet on the opening day of the 2019 finals as Italy take on Spain in Bologna.
• Hosts Italy have five titles to their name, the most recent in 2004; Spain have been crowned champions four times, reaching the final in three of the last four tournaments with their last triumph, in 2013, coming at Italy's expense.
• Spain have won the last two competitive meetings between the sides, beating Italy in that final four years ago and the 2017 semi-finals.
• This will be the sides' tenth European U21 Championship fixture. Spain have four wins to Italy's three; Spain have scored 14 goals in those previous nine matches, two more than Italy.
• In the 2017 semi-finals, a Saúl Ñíguez hat-trick gave Spain a 3-1 semi-final win in Krakow against an Italy side whose sole response came from Federico Bernardeschi. Spain went on to lose 1-0 to Germany in the final.
• Lorenzo Pellegrini and Federico Chiesa started and Manuel Locatelli came off the bench for Italy in that semi-final two years ago; Dani Ceballos, Jesús Vallejo and Jorge Meré were in Spain's starting line-up, while Mikel Merino, Borja Mayoral and Carlos Soler were unused substitutes.
• Spain had run out 4-2 winners against Italy in the 2013 final in Jerusalem, Thiago Alcántara scoring three of their goals and Isco the other from the penalty spot; Ciro Immobile and Fabio Borini were the Italy players on target.
• That was the countries' third U21 final meeting. Spain won their two-legged 1986 contest 3-0 on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate draw, while Italy came out on top ten years later, again on penalties, 4-2 in Barcelona after Francesco Totti and Raúl González had swapped goals.
• Merino, Mayoral and Meré scored in Spain's 3-0 friendly win against Italy on 1 September 2017. Mayoral had also been on target in a 2-1 Spain win in Rome that March.
• Italy have qualified for ten of the 12 final tournaments since 1998. They have reached the semi-finals or better in six of those previous nine appearances, claiming the trophy in 2000 and 2004.
• Italy were also champions for three tournaments running between 1992 and 1996, and reached the 1986 final.
• The Azzurrini have, however, won only three of their last eight matches in the final tournament (D1 L4).
• Italy have played 17 friendlies since 1 September 2017 (W7 D4 L6). They have not won since beating Tunisia 2-0 in October 2018 (D2 L2), their sole success in their last six matches.
• This is Spain's seventh appearance in the U21 final tournament since 1998, and a fifth in the competition's last six editions. They have only once failed to get past the group stage in their six previous participations, in 2009, and have reached the final in each of their last three, lifting the trophy in 2011 and 2013.
• Spain were also champions in 1986, and runners-up in 1984 and 1996.
• This time Spain qualified by finishing top of Group 2, winning nine of their ten qualifying fixtures with 31 goals scored and ten conceded.
• Defeat by Germany in the 2017 final ended Spain's ten-match unbeaten run in competitive U21 matches (W7 D3); they have lost only two of their last 21 European U21 Championship games (W16 D3), the other in qualification at home to Northern Ireland on 11 September 2018 (1-2).
• Spain have won their last eight group games at the finals, and have not lost in the group stage since a 2-0 reverse to England on 18 June 2009.
• Coach Luis de la Fuente, who succeeded Albert Celades in July 2018, led Spain to the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in Greece with a squad including Antonio Sivera, Unai Simón, Jorge Meré, Mikel Merino, Alfonso Pedraza, Dani Ceballos and Borja Mayoral.
Links and trivia
• Italy coach Luigi Di Biagio twice faced Spain in international friendlies during his playing days – a 2-2 draw in Salerno in 1998 and a 2-0 defeat in Barcelona two years later.
• Has played in Italy:
Fabián Ruiz (Napoli 2018–)
• Have played together:
Fabián Ruiz & Alex Meret (Napoli)
• Rafa Mir scored in each of Spain's last four qualifying matches.
• Four of Italy's U21 squad represented the senior national team in this month's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying wins against Greece in Athens (3-0) and Bosnia & Herzegovina in Turin (2-1). Nicolò Barella played 90 minutes in both games, opening the scoring against Greece, when Federico Chiesa started and Lorenzo Pellegrini came off the bench. Gianluca Mancini also started against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chiesa appearing as a half-time substitute.
• Fabián Ruiz was a substitute in Spain's 4-1 UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying win away to the Faroe Islands on 7 June and started the 3-0 defeat of Sweden in Madrid three days later. Mikel Oyarzabal came on against Sweden to score Spain's third goal, his first at senior international level.