A Federico Chiesa inspired Italy got off to the perfect start at the European Under-21 Championship as they beat Spain 3-1 at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, with the Fiorentina winger scoring two of the Azzurrini’s three goals.
The first 20 minutes of the game saw La Rojita come out of the blocks firing as Italy looked petrified of Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos. The crowd in Bologna seemed just as shocked as the players on the pitch, particularly after the 22-year-old put Spain in front.
Ceballos had the ball just outside the area, sized up Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella, cut onto his right foot, and then hit a ferocious strike into the top right corner beyond the despairing Alex Meret.
Three minutes later, the Madrid man was once again at the heart of another Spain attack. He waltzed through the Azzurrini’s defence, going past three or four players in the process, before pulling the ball back for Borja Mayoral, who was about one yard out, but the striker was not alert enough. Italy could breathe again.
As the game developed, the Azzurrini responded to the 22-year-old’s dominating start by not allowing him to have any space. Instead, they were betting that the other Spain players would be unable to beat them. And it worked.
While Ceballos’ influence began to dwindle after the initial period to start the match, Chiesa certainly put him imprint on the match and he was arguably the best player on the pitch over the course of the 90 minutes. Not only were his goals important for Italy, but the way in which he tirelessly worked caused all sorts of problems for the Spain defence.
Italy equalised in the 36th minute through Chiesa. Barella hit a beautiful cross-field pass for the Fiorentina star and he controlled the ball perfectly, at which point he utilised his blistering pace to get past Spain right-back Martin Aguirregabiria and hit a cross-come-shot past Unai Simon from an acute angle.
The second half saw the Azzurrini’s confidence grow, spurred on by their home support, and it never felt like La Rojita would get back into the game, despite the scoreline being level at half-time.
It was Chiesa again who tormented the Spain defence as he found the back of the net for the second time in the match in the 64th minute.
Italy substitute Patrick Cutrone received the ball in the area and, despite fluffing his lines with an attempted volley amidst plenty of pressure from Jesus Vallejo, he held the ball up and guided it to his left, where Chiesa was in the right place to fire past Simon with ease.
The game was all but wrapped up eight minutes from time, with Lorenzo Pellegrini scoring from the penalty spot, following a VAR review. The referee had allowed the play to continue but, after being told that there may have been an incident worth looking at in Spain’s box, he went over to the VAR monitor.
From there, he saw that Carlos Soler had been pulling Pellegrini from outside the area and that the foul had continued into the box, with the Italian hitting the ground shortly after. Pellegrini then stepped up to send Simon the wrong way.
This was the perfect start to the European Under-21 Championship for the hosts, despite Spain’s initial threat, and they will now be feeling confident of going all the way after beating one of the tournament’s favourites. For La Rojita, their job is going to be very tough from here on out.