2004 Under-21 EURO: Italy save best for last
Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Italy were crowned Under-21 champions of Europe for the fifth time in seven attempts.
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Italy 3-0 Serbia and Montenegro
(De Rossi 32, Bovo 83, Gilardino 85)
Italy claimed their fifth UEFA European Under-21 Championship in seven attempts with a 3-0 victory in the final against Serbia and Montenegro in Bochum. But Claudio Gentile's side looked unlikely champions after losing 2-1 to Belarus in their opening Group A match.
"After Belarus beat us I said to myself, 'We will either make it all the way to the end or we'll be out immediately'," Gentile said. "Not many were betting on us after the loss against Belarus, but this team has a thousand resources and has proved it. We were patient and it paid off."
Two wins in quick succession soon changed the mood in the Italy camp. Gentile's nerves were steadied thanks to a pair of goals from Giuseppe Sculli in a 2-1 victory against Serbia and Montenegro and two days later Croatia were also beaten, 1-0. That victory ensured Italy of a place in the semi-finals and they were joined there by Serbia and Montenegro, who also closed out the group on six points.
Sweden were the pick of the teams in Group B, Johan Elmander impressing as his side swept into the final four with wins against Portugal, Germany and Switzerland. Hosts Germany only needed a draw from their final match against Portugal to join them there, but a superb late strike from Lourenço took the Iberian side through instead. Portugal, however, would not last much longer. Italy had found their rhythm and were easy winners in the semi-final, 3-1 thanks to a pair of goals from Parma striker Alberto Gilardino.
That win set up another meeting with Serbia and Montenegro, who had reached the final in thrilling fashion. Vladimir Petrović's side looked to be on the way out after falling behind to Sweden in their semi-final, but Milos Marić's added-time goal took the game into extra time. Serbia and Montenegro would ultimately go through on penalties, but their luck ran out against Italy in the final.
Seven of Italy's players that day would make the step up to the full national side soon after, and with the likes of Daniele Bonera, Christian Zaccardo, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi and Gilardino proving the future of the Azzurri was in safe hands, Gentile's side ran riot in front of 20,092 fans. De Rossi, Cesare Bovo and Gilardino, his fourth of the tournament, got the goals as the Azzurrini made amends for that early scare against Belarus. Patience had paid for Gentile.