Matchday 2 in Group B brings together the two most successful teams in U21 EURO history as Spain take on Italy.
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The two most successful teams in UEFA European Under-21 Championship history meet at the Stadion Ljudski vrt in Maribor as Spain take on Italy in the second round of Group B games.
• The sides have five titles apiece and have crossed swords in three finals, Spain prevailing in 1986 and 2013 and Italy coming out on top in 1996. Italy also beat Spain in the group stage two years ago, although it was Spain who went on to finish first in the section and ultimately take the title.
• Spain hit the ground running on Matchday 1, second-half goals from Javier Puado (53), Gonzalo Villar (54) and Juan Miranda (89) earning an opening win against co-hosts Slovenia. A 75th-minute Giulio Maggiore own goal meant Italy had to settle for a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic, Gianluca Scamacca having given them a first-half lead. The Azzurrini ended the game with nine men following the late dismissals of Sandro Tonali and Riccardo Marchizza.
• This will be the sides' 11th European U21 Championship fixture. Each has four wins and scored 15 goals in those previous ten matches.
• On Matchday 1 of the 2019 finals, a Federico Chiesa double (36, 64) helped hosts Italy overturn Dani Ceballos' ninth-minute opener in Bologna. A Lorenzo Pellegrini penalty eight minutes from time sealed the win, but Spain bounced back to progress to the semi-finals as Group A winners, Italy and Poland losing out in a three-way head-to-head after the teams had all finished with six points.
• Patrick Cutrone came on as second-half substitute in that match, Tonali remaining on the bench.
• In the 2017 semi-finals, a Saúl Ñíguez hat-trick gave Spain a 3-1 semi-final win in Kraków against an Italy side whose sole response came from Federico Bernardeschi. Spain went on to lose 1-0 to Germany in the final.
• Spain had run out 4-2 winners against Italy in the 2013 final in Jerusalem, Thiago Alcántara scoring three of their goals and Isco the other from the penalty spot; Ciro Immobile and Fabio Borini were the Italy players on target.
• That was the countries' third U21 final meeting. Spain won their two-legged 1986 contest 3-0 on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate draw, while Italy came out on top ten years later, again on penalties, 4-2 in Barcelona after Francesco Totti and Raúl González had swapped goals.
• Spain were 3-0 friendly winners against Italy on 1 September 2017 having also triumphed 2-1 in Rome that March.
• Brahim Díaz and Abel Ruiz were both on target in Spain's 4-2 win against Italy in the 2016 European U17 Championship group stage. Andrea Pinamonti got one of the goals for Italy, whose team also included Alessandro Plizzari, Raoul Bellanova, Matteo Gabbia and Davide Frattesi.
• Ruiz scored twice more against Italy in a 3-1 Spain win in the 2017 U17 EURO group stage; Álvaro Fernández, Miranda and Hugo Guillamón were among his Spain team-mates.
• A Ruiz penalty earned Spain a 2-1 success against Italy in the 2019 European U19 Championship group stage. Miranda and Guillamón both started the game in Yerevan; Italy's side included Marco Carnesecchi and Giacomo Raspadori.
• This is Spain's eighth appearance in the U21 final tournament since 1998, and a sixth in the competition's last seven editions. They have only failed to get past the group stage once in those eight participations, in 2009, and have reached the final in each of their last four, lifting the trophy in 2011, 2013 and 2019.
• Current coach Luis de la Fuente – who succeeded Albert Celades in July 2018 – led Spain to a 2-1 final victory against Germany in Udine in 2019. His side had finished first in Group A before beating France 4-1 in the semi-finals.
• Spain have lost only three of 37 European U21 Championship games (W30 D4) – against Italy on Matchday 1 at the 2019 finals, in qualification at home to Northern Ireland on 11 September 2018 (1-2) and Germany in the 2017 final (0-1).
• De la Fuente's team won nine of their ten qualifiers in booking their place at the 2021 finals, dropping points only in a 1-1 draw in Israel on 19 November 2019. They won their next five qualifiers, keeping a clean sheet in each, and have now not conceded in 549 minutes of competitive football. They finished on 28 points, ten ahead of North Macedonia at the top of Group 6.
• Spain conceded only one goal – a penalty – in qualifying, which gave them the best defensive record; no other team conceded fewer than four.
• Spain have won 19 of their last 22 matches at the final tournament (D1 L2); the 2019 defeat by Italy was their first in the group stage since a 2-0 reverse to England on 18 June 2009.
• De la Fuente also led Spain to the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in Greece.
• 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 in second place level with eventual champions Spain and Poland on six points.
• Despite those victories in 2019, Italy have won only five of their last 12 matches in the final tournament before Matchday 1 (D2 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:
Brahim Díaz (AC Milan loan 2020–)
Gonzalo Villar (Roma 2020–)
• Has played in Spain:
Patrick Cutrone (Valencia loan 2021)
• Have played together:
Brahim Díaz & Matteo Gabbia, Lorenzo Colombo, Sandro Tonali (AC Milan 2020–)
Hugo Guillamón & Patrick Cutrone (Valencia 2021
• Ander Barrenetxea and Martín Zubimendi were both second-half substitutes in Real Sociedad's 1-0 home defeat against Napoli in the UEFA Europa League group stage on 29 October 2020. Zubimendi played 90 minutes of the 1-1 draw in Naples on 10 December, when Barrenetxea again came on.
• Riqui Puig and Óscar Mingueza were substitutes in Barcelona's 0-3 home defeat by Juventus on Matchday 6 of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League.
• Abel Ruiz came on as a substitute in Braga's home (0-2) and away (1-3) defeats against Roma in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 on 18 and 25 February. His Spain team-mate Gonzalo Villar featured in both games for the Italian club.
• Cutrone scored Milan's goal in a 2-1 home loss to Real Betis in the UEFA Europa League group stage on 25 October 2018.