The Italians were runners-up in the last edition of the tournament two years ago in Israel after falling 4-2 against Spain in the final. The Italians are in a tough group with England, Sweden and Portugal, so it will take something special if they are to make it to another final.
The Czech Republic is hosting its second large sporting event this year, as they will be the site for the Under-21 European Championship that starts on June 17. The Czech Republic hosted the IIHF Hockey World Championship in May. Although it’s a under-21 tournament, as long as the players are born in or after 1992 they are eligible, making the maximum age 23. That’s because the qualifications for the tournament started in 2013.
Italy battled through the qualification stage for the tournament, and ended up winning Group 9 on 18 points, just two points ahead of Serbia and Belgium. Italy got a key victory over Serbia in the second to last group game, winning 3-2 at the Adriatico stadium in Pescara. In the last group game they thrashed Cyprus 7-1, with seven different players scoring, to secure the group win. Palermo striker Andrea Belotti was the top scorer for the Italians with six goals in nine qualification games.
In the qualification playoffs they went up against Slovakia and after a 1-1 draw on the road, the Italians won 3-1 to go through 4-2 on aggregate.
The team is made up solely by players playing in Italy except for one, and there are a couple of names that stand out among the Azzurini. Goalkeeper Francesco Bardi belongs to Inter Milan, but has spent several seasons out on loan, most recently with fellow Serie A club Chievo. Bardi is a very promising goalkeeper and has been the number one choice for the U-21 national team for quite some time, playing in over 30 national games.
Another Inter player is left back Cristiano Biraghi. Just like Bardi, Biraghi spent the season on loan at Chievo and made 18 appearances as they finished in 14th place and avoided relegation by a good margin. Inter’s third contribution to the squad, midfielder Lorenzo Crisetig wasn’t as lucky with his loan spell to Cagliari as they were relegated from Serie A, but Crisetig made 28 appearances and got a lot of valuable experience.
Crisetig and Roma’s Federico Viviani could make up a strong partnership in midfield. Viviani spent the season on loan at Latina in Serie B and scored 8 goals in 31 appearances. With Viviani playmaking abilities and Crisetig’s work ethic, they would make an ideal central pairing for the Italians in midfield, and head coach Luigi Di Biagio has to feel good about his options in midfield.
In addition to Crisetig and Viviani he also has Marco Benassi (Torino) and Cristian Battocchio (Watford). Battocchio is the only player that doesn’t belong to an Italian side, but he was on loan at Virtus Entella in Serie B this season.
Up front, Di Biagio will be hoping that Belotti can keep scoring. In addition to the six goals he scored in the qualifiers, he also netted six times for Palermo, despite mostly coming off the bench. Domenico Berardi (Juventus) is another great option up front as he had 15 league goals this season in Serie A during his loan spell with Sassuolo.
Group B is extremely tough, and there are no easy games. A good start against Sweden in the opening game will be crucial if the Italians are to move onto the semifinals.
June 18: Italy – Sweden
June 21: Italy – Portugal
June 24: England – Italy
— Khaled Al Nouss (@KhaledAlNouss) June 7, 2015