The joint most successful side in U21 history, five-time winners Italy kick off their latest campaign in Celje against the Czech Republic.
Article top media content
Virtual ever-presents at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Italy kick off their latest finals campaign at the Stadion Celje against the Czech Republic.
• The Azzurrini may be the joint most successful side in U21 EURO history but the most recent of their five titles came 17 years ago and they failed to progress beyond the group stage on home soil two years ago. The Czechs also have a U21 title to their name, in their case from 2002, although their last two finals campaigns also foundered in the group stage.
• This will be the teams' fifth encounter since 2000 – all in the final tournament. Most recently the Czech Republic were 3-1 winners at Tychy's Stadion Miejski on Matchday 2 of the 2017 edition thanks to goals from Michal Trávník (24) and, after Domenico Berardi's 70th-minute equaliser for Italy, Marek Havlík (79) and Michael Lüftner (85). It was Italy who progressed from Group C, however, winning their other two games to finish first in the section on six points; that victory provided the fourth-placed Czechs' only points of the tournament.
• Italy ran out 3-1 winners on Matchday 3 of the 2007 group stage thanks to goals from Alberto Aquilani (4), Giorgio Chiellini (29) and Giuseppe Rossi (45+1); Michal Papadopulos (14) got the sole Czech response. Neither side progressed to the semi-finals, Italy finishing third in Group B and the Czechs fourth.
• The Czechs triumphed in dramatic circumstances in the the teams' 2002 semi-final. They looked set for the final when David Rozehnal's first-minute opener was followed by Michal Pospíšil's strike seven minutes from time but, remarkably, an Andrea Pirlo penalty (86) heralded Massimo Maccarone's equaliser four minutes into added time to force an extra 30 minutes. The Czechs, however, regrouped swiftly and Pospíšil scored the golden-goal winner in the 99th minute as they went on to lift the trophy.
• Two years earlier, in 2000, Pirlo's two goals had given Italy the trophy at the Czechs' expense. The midfielder converted a 42nd-minute penalty and, after Tomáš Došek had levelled (51), struck again with nine minutes left to clinch a 2-1 final victory in Bratislava.
• Italy beat Czechoslovakia in the two-legged quarter-finals of 1992 and 1994 – winning three of those four matches – and proceeded to take the title on both occasions. Each side registered a 2-1 home win in qualifying for the 1984 finals, but once more it was Italy who held sway overall, topping the qualifying section before losing to England in the semi-finals.
• Karel Krejčí's side finished top of qualifying Group 4, picking up 21 points from their ten matches to edge out Croatia by a single point at the top of the section. Defeated only once, 2-0 away to Scotland, they made sure of first place with a 2-0 win in Greece in their final qualifier.
• Winners in 2002 with a squad including Petr Čech, Milan Baroš, Zdeněk Grygera, David Rozehnal, Jan Polák and Tomáš Hübschman – who all amassed more than 50 senior caps – the Czech Republic are in the final tournament for the seventh time. Runners-up in 2000, they were knocked out in the group stage in 2007 and, as hosts, 2015, but reached the semi-finals in 2011.
• The Czechs' most recent appearance came in 2017, when they finished bottom of a section including Italy, eventual winners Germany and Denmark in Poland. That 3-1 win against Italy on Matchday 2 came either side of defeats by Germany (0-2) and Denmark (2-4).
• Czechoslovakia reached the U21 quarter-finals on six occasions, but never went any further in the competition.
• Italy have participated in 11 of the 13 final tournaments since 1998, missing out only in 1998 and 2011. They have reached the semi-finals or better in six of those previous ten 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 qualified automatically for the 2019 finals as hosts, but were unable to progress beyond the group stage despite winning two of their three fixtures, beating both Spain and Belgium 3-1 either side of a costly 1-0 loss to Poland. They finished level with eventual champions Spain and Poland on six points, with Spain progressing to the semi-finals by virtue of their superior record in matches between the three teams.
• Despite those victories in 2019, Italy have won only five of their last 11 matches in the final tournament (D1 L5).
• In qualifying for the 2021 finals, Paolo Nicolato – who replaced Luigi Di Biagio in July 2019 – guided the Azzurrini to first place in Group 1, his team picking up 25 points from their ten matches (W8 D1 L1) to finish four ahead of Iceland. Italy's sole defeat was a 3-0 reverse in Sweden on 8 September 2020; they won their last four matches, scoring four goals against Luxembourg (4-0) and Sweden (4-1) in the final two.
Links and trivia
• Have played in Italy:
Martin Graiciar (Fiorentina 2017)
David Heidenreich (Atalanta 2016–20)
• Have played together:
Michal Sadílek & Gianluca Scamacca (PSV Eindhoven 2016/17)
• Lorenzo Colombo started in AC Milan's 1-0 victory away to a Sparta Praha side who lost Dominik Plechatý to a 77th-minute red card in the UEFA Europa League on 10 December 2020. Ladislav Krejčí had come on as a half-time substitute for Adam Karabec for Sparta; Mattia Gabbia was an unused Milan replacement.
• Plechatý and Karabec came on as late substitutes in Sparta's 3-0 loss in Milan on 29 October.
• Andrea Pinamonti made his senior debut for Internazionale in a 2-1 UEFA Europa League win against Sparta on 8 December 2016.