Five-time European Under-21 champions Italy had to settle for a point from their Group A curtain-raiser against Serbia in Helsingborg.
Italy's first-half ascendancy gave way to a much-improved Serbian showing after the break as a crowd of 7,158 was treated to an always engaging tussle between two ambitious sides. Gojko Kačar's scissor-kick against the upright was the closest either team came to a breakthrough.
Three up front
The game started openly and the first corner, won by Italy captain Marco Motta, produced a free header wasted by Paolo De Ceglie. However, the first notable chance fell to Serbia as Nemanja Matić matched his persistence down the left with a penetrative cross that Zoran Tošić met inside the Italy area, sending his first-time strike narrowly off target. The Azzurrini's response was a curling effort from outside the box from the diminutive Sebastian Giovinco – forming a front three alongside Robert Acquafresca and Mario Balotelli – which Željko Brkić tipped over. More sighs of relief followed from the sizeable Serbian contingent inside Helsinborgs IF's Olympia as Acquafresca headed wide.
Ebb and flow
Serbia coach Slobodan Krcmarević chose a tactical template similar to Casiraghi insofar as three men shared the attacking duties. Tošić and Miralem Sulejmani – both wide players by trade – were supported by the versatile Kačar, a willing runner and raider. After half an hour Sulejmani scooped through a ball which Tošić was just beaten to by Italy keeper Andrea Consigli. His opposite number, Brkić, was similarly stretched by a firm Balotelli free-kick.
The pre-match talk had been of an Italian revenge mission after Serbia's opening-day victory over the Azzurrini in the 2007 finals. Increasingly, as half-time approached, that goal looked within reach. Giovinco's cross-cum-shot had Brkić back-pedalling. Salvatore Bocchetti spurned a shooting opportunity; Balotelli did not, rifling the ball against Brkić's body. Yet the interval clean sheet appeared to vindicate Krcmarević's decision to give Jagoš Vuković his competitive debut at centre-back.
With Tošić sparking, Serbia began the second half as if trying to restore balance to a shot count heavily favouring the Italians. Soon another notch for Casiraghi's men, though, as Acquafresca nodded a Giovinco set-piece into Brkić's arms. There seemed little between the teams, although a gap did emerge in the Serbia defence when Giovinco sprang the offside trap from Luca Cigarini's pass. Perhaps unaware of time and space, the Juventus talent lifted the ball tamely at Brkić.
Off the woodwork
At the other end the clever passing exchanges between Serbia's attacking triumvirate – often prompted by the elegant left-footed midfielder Matić – were gaining in fluidity and frequency. Towards the 75-minute mark, Nenad Tomović forced a desperate save from Consigli after Nemanja Pejčinović touched on a Tošić corner. Still more pressure ensued: Kačar's acrobatic strike rattling Italy's right post, before a Tošić free-kick whistled past the left. The resulting deadlock put both countries two points behind the day's winners, hosts Sweden, who beat Belarus 5-1.