Nazionale U21

Euro 2019, Italy beat Belgium but Spain win the group

The Azzurrini won 3-1 in Reggio Emilia to keep hopes of going through alive but Spain's 5-0 win sees them top the group. Di Biagi: "There's still a small hope"

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Euro 2019, Italy beat Belgium but Spain win the group

“Win without making calculations,” was what Luigi Di Biagio stated a day ahead of the match. The Under-21 National Team did so as they beat Belgium 3-1 in Reggio Emilia in the final match go Group A in the European Championship. The result gives the Azzurrini a hope of going through as the best-placed runner-up with Spain winning the group thanks to their 5-0 triumph over Poland.

With the three sides all locked on six points, Spain finished top thanks to their superior goal difference in the three-team head-to-head tiebreaker.

By winning the group, Spain take up their place in the semi-finals and they’ve also qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Italy can still go through as the best runner-up with six points and a goal difference of +3. All will become clear following fixtures in the other two groups over the next 48 hours.

The match itself against Belgium was in no way simple even if they had lost their two previous games. In the head-to-head record, Italy Under-21 had won two, drawn one and lost one.

Di Biagio set his team up in a 4-3-1-2 formation without Orsolini and Bonifazi who were injured and Zaniolo was suspended. Meret was in goal behind a backline of Calabresi, Mancini, Bastoni and Pezzella who made his first start at left-back. In the middle, Locatelli started alongside Mandragora and Barella while Lorenzo Pellegrini was in a more advanced role behind Cutrone and Chiesa. 

At a sold-out Mapei Stadium, the Azzurrini started quickly and almost took the lead early on when Barella missed the target with a close-range header after Pezzella’s cross. Italy were in clear control and a Meret save from Lukebakio was the only Belgium chance.

The Azzurrini pressure continued with Chiesa and then Cutrone missing the target. News arrived from Bologna that Spain were leading against Poland and the Azzurrini attacked more at the end of the half. In the 44th minute, Pezzella crossed the ball and Pellegrini was able to set Barella up to shoot. De Wolf saved the first effort but he couldn’t do anything to deny Barella a first Under-21 goal from the rebound.

In the second half, Italy were enjoying their football and continued to dominate. Cutrone doubled the lead in the 55th minute with a looping header into the corner from a Pellegrini cross. It was the striker’s first goal of the tournament and it brought a goalless streak of 162 days to an end.

The Azzurrini didn’t stop there and kept looking for more goals in the knowledge that goal difference could come into effect. In the 66th minute, Mandragora and then Cutrone were denied by the Belgian goalkeeper. While hoping for a Poland goal, bad news arrived that Spain netted a fourth while Belgium got one back through a spectacular Vershaeren strike that left Meret with no chance. In the final minutes, Di Biagio’s side went back on the attack. First, Mancini almost scored a third but he was denied by the post. Chiesa was able to find the net however with a great finish into the top corner and the goal was given after a VAR check. In stoppage time, the substitute Mbenza picked up a second yellow card while Spain made it 5-0. Now, Italy will have to look to results elsewhere in the hope of going through to the semi-finals as the best runner-up.

“We have a small hope,” said the Coach Di Biagio following the match. “I can’t ask for any more from these guys. We knew that we were depending on results elsewhere. We’re the side that had the most shots on goal but it wasn’t enough. I can’t be satisfied with that but the results are another matter.”

Luigi Di Biagio also discussed Kean not making the starting line-up. “We’re a squad, we all have to respect the rules.” In his place, Patrick Cutrone started and scored his first goal at the tournament. “It was a really great feeling. I’m honest and I wasn’t having a great time. Unfortunately, we can only hope now. We want to go through and do it in front of our fans but we have to wait for results elsewhere. Let’s hope that fortune is on our side.”

Under-21 European Championship groups 2019

Group A: Belgium, ITALY, Poland, Spain
Group B: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Serbia
Group C: Croatia, France, England, Romania

Matchday One (16 June) 
Poland 3-2 Belgium
ITALY 3-1 Spain

Matchday Two (19 June)
Spain 2-1 Belgium
ITALY 0-1 Poland

Matchday Three (22 June )
Spain 5-0 Poland
Belgium 1-3 Italy

Table: Spain, Italy, Poland 6 points, Belgium 0

N.B. The three group winners one best runner-up qualify for the semi-finals.


Schedule for the European Championship

Saturday 22 June 2019
21:00 BELGIUM 1-3 ITALY Stadio Città del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia

Sunday 23 June 2019
Players depart from the squad should they be eliminated.

27 June

Potential Olympic play-off
28 June in Cesena (21:00)

European Championship final
30 June at Stadio Friuli in Udine (20:45)