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Late Bertolacci goal denies Norway top spot

Norway 1-1 Italy
Andrea Bertolacci's late goal denied Tor Ole Skullerud's side top spot in Group A but a draw was enough to seal a second semi-final place.

Late Bertolacci goal denies Norway top spot
Late Bertolacci goal denies Norway top spot ©UEFA.com

Norway were seemingly destined for the semi-finals as UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group A winners until a last-gasp Andrea Bertolacci strike denied them top spot.

Italy had the best chances of the first half in Tel Aviv with Nicola Sansone and Mattia Destro proving a constant threat but Arild Østbø repelled everything that came his way. The second period followed a similar pattern until Norway's Stefan Strandberg converted from the spot in the 90th minute and fellow substitute Bertolacci equalised deep into stoppage time. The point ensures Norway qualify for the last four for only the second time while Italy – who were already through – progress as group winners.

Both unbeaten, the two sides rang the changes but Norway's starting XI still boasted 55 senior caps between them. Markus Henriksen, Valon Berisha, Håvard Nordtveit and Joshua King came in, with the last-mentioned making a particularly lively start. The first meaningful opportunity, though, went Italy's way as Sansone cut in from the left and fired straight at Østbø.

Sansone continued to cause Martin Linnes problems down the Italian left and midway through the opening half the Parma FC midfielder came close to the breakthrough only for his right-footed curler to drift agonisingly past the right post. Devis Mangia's team began to assert their authority and were unfortunate not to take the lead when Fausto Rossi's deflected shot flew wide after Thomas Rogne failed to comprehensively clear Destro's cross-shot.

Østbø was certainly the busier of the goalkeepers and five minutes before the interval Destro let Sansone's pass run across his body on the edge of the area before creating space for a shot which was well saved by the Norway No1 low to his right.

The five-times trophy winners started the second half as they finished the first but it took until the 58th minute for them to fashion their next chance. Destro timed his run to perfection to latch onto Rossi's through ball but after racing clear and rounding Østbø, the AS Roma forward could only find the side netting from a tight angle.

For all Norway's neat and intricate passing, the nearest they came was via a set piece. Vegar Hedenstad, returning from suspension after his red card against Israel, unleashed a dipping, swerving free-kick from 30 metres that rattled the crossbar with Franceso Bardi beaten. With the match apparently heading for a goalless draw, Strandberg was felled by Luca Caldirola in the box and the substitute picked himself up to give Norway the late advantage. Undeterred, Italy kept piling forward and Bertolacci's 94th-minute strike guaranteed their place in the last four as group winners.

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