Nazionale U21

Gnonto rescues crucial late point for the U21s

A 2-2 draw in Cork, with the Leeds attacker scoring his and Italy’s second in stoppage time

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Gnonto rescues crucial late point for the U21s

"Gnonto is an exceptional guys. These two matches will be an opportunity for him.” Carmine Nunziata knew all about the Leeds attacker’s abilities, and it was a late stoppage-time header from Willy that allowed Italy’s U21s to maintain their unbeaten record. After three consecutive wins (without conceding), the Azzurrini were held for the second time in Euro qualifying, but it was a completely different draw compared to the one they came away with in their opening match against Latvia. Italy had to dig in against the Republic of Ireland in Cork and fell behind twice, but Nunziata’s men were able to respond through a player who has already been involved in the first-team setup. It was Gnonto’s second brace in two matches after also bagging twice against San Marino, but this was a particularly important one. Thanks to his last-gasp equaliser, the Azzurrini remain top of the group on eleven points, ahead of the Republic of Ireland on ten and Norway (beaten in Turkey) on nine.

THE MATCH. Nunziata made three changes to the side that won 7-0 in San Marino: Coppola came in for Ghilardi in defence, Bove replaced Casadei in midfield, and Fabbian was selected instead of Volpato behind Esposito and Gnonto up front. The first shot of the match came from Emakhu, but it didn’t cause Desplanches any problems. Gnonto had the Azzurrini’s first chance in the 14th minute, but the Leeds striker was unable to hit the target. In a really physical encounter, Phillips opened the scoring after 31 minutes with a right-footed strike following Armstrong’s ball into the box. It was the first goal Italy had conceded in their qualifying campaign. However, a minute before half-time, the Azzurrini grabbed an equaliser: Lawal handled a Gnonto shot in the area, and the same Italy player stepped up to convert from the spot.

Casadei replaced Esposito at half-time and joined Fabbian in behind Gnonto. But just three minutes after the restart, Grehan’s cross-shot hit the post and Armstrong, in all sorts of space, was on hand to convert the rebound. Nunziata made another change, sending on Koleosho for Ndour. Fabbian, who was replaced by Ambrosino with 15 minutes to play, had an opportunity to make it 2-2, but his attempt was too close to Keeley. Gnonto came inches away from equalising in the 90th minute through an effort that struck the woodwork, with Keeley then producing heroics to thwart Zanotti. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, after Ambrosino had headed a Koleosho cross wide, Gnonto managed to nod into the net via a deflection off Healy to draw the Azzurrini level. Italy remain in first place and will have home advantage in four of the remaining five qualifying matches they’re scheduled to play in 2024.

GOALS: 31' pt Phillips (ROI), 45'+1 pen. Gnonto (IT), 48’ Armstrong (ROI), 90'+6 Gnonto (IT)

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (3-4-1-2): Keeley; Grehan, Lawal, Garcia MacNulty; Curtis, Healy, Adeeko, Roughan (91' Adaramola); Phillips; Armstrong (82’ Kenny), Emakhu (94’ Murphy). Substitutes: Brooks, Abankwah, O'Neill, Springett, Carty, Gilsenan. Head Coach: Crawford

ITALY (4-3-1-2): Desplanches; Zanotti, Coppola, Pirola, Calafiori (83’ Turicchia); Bove, Prati, Ndour (56’ Koleosho); Fabbian (76’ Ambrosino); Gnonto, Esposito (46’ Casadei). Substitutes: Zacchi, Guarino, Ghilardi, Bianco, Fazzini. Head Coach: Nunziata

REFEREE: Tschudi (Switzerland)
ASSISTANTS: Josipovic-Lengacher (Switzerland)
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Dudic (Switzerland)

Thursday 16 November
San Marino 0-7 Italy
Friday 17 November
Norway 3-2 Republic of Ireland
Tuesday 21 November
Turkey 2-0 Norway
Republic of Ireland 2-2 Italy

Standings (games played): 
ITALY (5) 11, Republic of Ireland (5) 10, Norway (5) 9, Latvia (7) 5, Turkey (5) 6, San Marino (5) 0

Friday 22 March 2024: Italy vs. Latvia
Tuesday 26 March 2024: Italy vs. Turkey
Thursday 5 September 2024: Italy vs. San Marino
Tuesday 10 September 2024: Norway vs. Italy
Tuesday 15 October 2024: Italy vs. Republic of Ireland