Nazionale U21

Winning start for new-look Italy side. Nicolato: “Great attitude but we need to work”

The Azzurrini were victorious in their first game of EURO 2023 qualification, beating Luxembourg 3-0 in Empoli. Italy take on Montenegro in Vicenza on Monday

Friday, September 3, 2021

Winning start for new-look Italy side. Nicolato: “Great attitude but we need to work”

Italy Under-21 began this new era in the best way possible, beating Luxembourg 3-0 in Empoli in the first game of U21 EURO 2023 qualifying.

The Azzurrini scored three goals and displayed plenty of character and, in spite of the fatigue and a big lead secured in the first half, continued to push for more right up until the final whistle. Italy took the lead after just four minutes through Lorenzo Pirola and got themselves two up in the eleventh minute thanks to an Olesen own goal. Five minutes into the second half, the Azzurrini added a third through debutant Matteo Cancellieri.

Italy are currently in second on three points, one behind leaders Montenegro, who have played one match more than the Azzurrini, and level with Sweden and Ireland. Bosnia are currently in penultimate position with Luxembourg last with zero points.

THE GAME – This new era began with a very young squad and three debutants: Cagliari defender Andrea Carboni, Atalanta forward Roberto Piccoli and Verona striker Matteo Cancellieri. Lovato was out due to suspension, so Nicolato went with a 4-3-3 and entrusted the veterans with the task of helping the new arrivals to bed in. Sandro Tonali was given the captain’s armband and was deployed in the heart of the midfield. Carnesecchi started in goal, with Bellanova, Carboni, Pirola and Udogie in defence; Ricci, Tonali and Rovella started in midfield, while Colombo, Piccoli and Cancellieri were named in the front three.

After just three sessions together, it didn’t take long at all for this new group to gel, much to Nicolato’s delight. After just seven minutes, Italy had taken the lead. Carnesecchi kicked off the counter and the Azzurrini won a free kick, which Tonali swung in to Pirola, who headed past the goalkeeper.

Four minutes later, the Azzurrini found themselves two goals to the good from yet another free kick. Tonali took and Olesen diverted the ball into his own net. Italy were looking good, dominated the football and never looked threatened.

Another chance fell Italy’s way in the 16th minute; Tonali’s cross was a good one but Ricci couldn’t quite get on the end of it. While Italy were getting used to playing with this new-look squad, the guests tried to capitalise - without success - on a couple of defensive errors, while were dealt with by Carnesecchi. Before the half-time whistle blew, Piccoli was forced off with an ankle injury.

Sturm Graz forward Kelvin Yeboah came on for his debut at half time to replace Piccoli. And it was a debutant, Matteo Cancellieri, that scored Italy’s third from Tonali’s assist, beating his man and rifling it into the back off the net.

Nicolato made two more changes in the 63rd minute: Calafiori and Salcedo replaced Udogie and Colombo. Two minutes later, Italy narrowly missed a chance to go 4-0 up through Yeboah. The Azzurrini remained very compact throughout the second half and let the opposition have very little. Another debutant then came on in Juventus midfielder Nicolò Fagioli in place of Bellanova.

 “I liked some things, others not so much,” said Nicolato. “We need to work more but it’s normal that this is the case.” The Azzurrini have an important two years coming up given that they are fighting for a place in the finals of the Euros, as a result of which four places at the 2024 Olympics are up for grabs. “We’re taking it one step at a time. Meanwhile, after these first 90 minutes, we have more of an idea of what we need to work on. We need to improve individually and at the back. We need to up our game but that will take a bit of time. As a positive, I saw a great attitude from the lads and this is very important.”

Italy have their next game in qualifying next Tuesday as they take on Montenegro at the Stadio Romeo Menti in Vicenza.