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Casiraghi steeled for biggest test

Italy need one point against Belarus to seal a semi-final place but coach Pierluigi Casiraghi expects his most difficult group game yet, with counterpart Yuri Kurnenin insisting: "We have not lost hope."

Italy coach Pierluigi Casiraghi
Italy coach Pierluigi Casiraghi ©Getty Images

Italy may need only one point against Belarus to secure progress to the semi-finals of the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, but coach Pierluigi Casiraghi says the match in Helsingborg could be the toughest of his side's three Group A ties.

Casiraghi cautious
The five-time champions lead the section after drawing with Serbia and beating hosts Sweden 2-1. Defeat, though, could see Belarus advance in their place after Yuri Kurnenin's team grasped a lifeline by following up their 5-1 loss to Sweden by holding Serbia. "We have a slight advantage but these kind of games are the most difficult to prepare for," Casiraghi said. "It just takes one mistake, one unlucky rebound or deflection, to spoil all the work we have put in."

Balotelli suspended
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio has recovered from the knock he sustained against Sweden so Italy will just be without striker Mario Balotelli, who is suspended after being sent off in that game. The 18-year-old's absence will force Casiraghi into a change of personnel but not formation, with the 40-year-old sticking to his preferred 4-3-3 lineup with right-winger Ignazio Abate favourite to come in for Balotelli. "You can't replace Balotelli for his quality, talent or ability to play different roles during a match," Casiraghi said. "We played very well in our first game against Serbia and well at first against Sweden before Balotelli was sent off. I don't see any reason to change system now. We have been working on it for several years."

Although Belarus must win – and by a three-goal margin if Sweden and Serbia draw – Casiraghi still expects them to take a cautious approach. "Against Sweden they played an attacking game and were punished by five goals. Against Serbia they were more cautious and played much better, so I anticipate something similar against us, for most of the game at least. They are very strong physically and we have seen in many matches at this tournament how important the physical aspect is. However, my players are mature enough to understand what kind of performance is needed."

'Heroic act'
Belarus coach Kurnenin, meanwhile, will be looking to history for inspiration. In 2004 Belarus were outsiders when they beat Italy, the eventual champions, in their first match at a U21 final tournament. Five years on another victory would come as an even greater surprise. "We all know our history," Kurnenin said. "I was at that game and I will certainly be telling my players about that small act of heroism by their predecessors.

'Not lost hope'
"Anything can happen in football. One team can be much stronger, but if you are lucky you can win. We have not lost hope. We have all our strength and energy and have a chance of getting a result. Italy remain favourites in both the group and the competition. They have everything, but sometimes concentration can decide a game like this. We have to be united and do our best to win." Kurnenin has no injury worries and is likely to keep faith with the players who shut out Serbia. As Casiraghi suggested, patience will be the key. "It's not the right moment to change tactics," Kurnenin said. "We have hardly played a match with two strikers. We will deploy the same 4-2-3-1 model."