Luigi Di Biagio’s Azzurrini squad commenced the European Under-21 Championship with a victory against Denmark in their Group C encounter, but they had trouble breaking a resilient Danish backline
Starting tournaments well isn’t something Italy do at senior level and it seemed that the Under-21 side aren’t much different.
The Azzurrini opened their European Under-21 Championship campaign in Poland on Sunday evening against Denmark and they defeated the Danes 2-0 at the Marshal Jozef Pilsudski Stadium in Krakow.
Coach Luigi Di Biagio encouraged his Italy team to attack from the first whistle but their play going forward was predictable and lacking in imagination.
Despite dominating possession, the Azzurrini failed to seriously test the Danish rearguard in the first half, and that was due to the cautious tactics of Niels Frederiksen. The Danish coach has his team lined-up in two banks of four and his 4-4-2 formation resembled more of an 8-0-2 shape.
Due to the watertight defending of Denmark, Italy struggled to find avenues to goal through the middle of the park and often had to use the wings but to little avail.
Roberto Gagliardini was not able to complete many vertical passes so full-backs Andrea Conti and Antonio Barreca had to provide most of the creativity with their marauding runs but they lacked better support. Wingers Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Berardi could neither supply crosses nor cut-in from wide positions because of the congestion near the penalty area.
It took a moment of magic nine minutes into the second half to open the game up with Lorenzo Pellegrini scoring the first goal with a stunning bicycle kick. It was a well-earned goal for the Sassuolo midfielder, who provided an energetic performance in the middle of the park and looked more comfortable on the ball than Gagliardini and Marco Benassi.
Although the goal changed the game, Di Biagio replacing Berardi with Federico Chiesa added extra vitality to Italy’s attacks thanks to his pace and directness. This allowed Bernardeschi to switch to the right-wing but a more open Danish defence allowed him to drift into space when the opportunities arose.
The 19-year-old Chiesa had a superb right-footed strike saved by Danish goalkeeper Jeppe Hojbjerg and he then did well before providing the cross for Andrea Petagna to seal the victory.
If Pellegrini’s moment of brilliance and Chiesa’s introduction changed the game for the Azzurrini, Petagna’s last five minutes made sure that Di Biagio’s side secured the three points.
The Atalanta centre-forward slowed things down with his hold-up play for the majority of the match, largely because he took at least two touches to control the ball, and perhaps should have incorporated more one-touch play.
Instead of playing in a tactical role like he does for La Dea, the 21-year-old displayed his natural ability in that spell near the end of the match. When he made those slalom runs, he demonstrated his technical ability as well as his physical strength, and looked more lethal as a result.
Petagna had two opportunities to score before he broke his duck for the tournament but those efforts were well-saved by Hojbjerg and then Di Biagio replaced him with Alberto Cerri after scoring the sealer.
Italy will play Czech Republic on Wednesday and Di Biagio must assess if he should persist with the same personnel and formation.
The match against Denmark indicated that once again the Italians are better in the manner they finish than the way they start matches or tournaments.