A friendly draw in Germany was good – a 1-0 home defeat to Serbia less so; UEFA.com's Francesco Corda assesses the lay of the land for Luigi Di Biagio's side.
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Italy can take pride in having come so close to beating a highly-rated Germany side, ultimately drawing 2-2 in their friendly in Paderborn, while there were some positives to be taken from a 1-0 loss to Serbia in Benevento, the Azzurrini showing spirit after going a goal and a man down. With the UEFA European Under-21 Championship drawing closer, here are some things to consider.
Italy have character
The last round of friendly games suggested there is work to be done on the training ground, but the Azzurrini showed commendable spirit. They led against Germany, and pushed Serbia hard with ten men. "The first half [against Serbia] was bad – we did not play as we can when we were in possession," said coach Luigi Di Biagio, who did not lack fighting spirit as a midfielder. "But I'm very satisfied with our response in the second half. It was more passionate than sensible, but the reaction was good and we could have equalised."
The defence is solid
Goalkeeper Francesco Bardi is no longer first-choice at AC Chievo Verona, and has not played a Serie A game since October, but he kept his place in the U21 team – despite Marco Sportiello's good form at Atalanta BC – and made some brilliant interventions, particularly against Germany. He complements a fine defensive line featuring Alessio Romagnoli, Daniele Rugani and captain Matteo Bianchetti, that trio confirming their strength when Serbia were counterattacking with a numerical advantage.
Andrea Belotti is a key player
Largely deployed as an impact substitute with US Città di Palermo, Andrea Belotti scored six goals in U21 qualifying, but is just as valuable for the space his movement opens up for team-mates. Absent for the first-half against Serbia, Italy clearly missed the presence of a powerful, hard-working striker – and ironically looked more dangerous with ten men after Belotti came on. It may have been no coincidence.
Match rhythm may be an issue
Great against Germany, but off-colour against Serbia three days later, the fear is that the Azzurrini's lack of regular first-team football at club level has left them ill-equipped for the pressure of playing games in quick succession. A regular at Atalanta BC, Davide Zappacosta did not feel that was an issue. "We proved we were a match for Serbia, who are one of the strongest teams in Europe at this level," he said. "We are even more excited about the finals because we know more about how strong we are after this game." Being able to show that class every time they play will be crucial if they are to be successful in the Czech Republic.
Are reinforcements on the way?
Senior-team contenders Marco Verratti, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio and Mattia Perin were not used in qualifying, but would all be eligible to play in the U21 finals. "I often talk to [senior Italy coach Antonio] Conte and we will decide at a later date about these four players," Di Biagio said. "I don't think it will be possible to call up all four of them, but we are considering one or two – why not?" Meanwhile, ACF Fiorentina forward Federico Bernardeschi is recovering from a serious knee injury, and could also make the finals cut after shining in qualifying.