The U20 Italian national team are making quite the impression in Poland in the FIFA U20 World Cup.
After finishing top in their group, they were tasked with facing the hosts, Poland, in the Round of 16 match this past Sunday. In a packed-out Stadion Miejski in Gdynia that was all in favour of the hosts, the Azzurrini came away with a 1-0 victory that takes them straight to Tychy, where they will play the quarter-final against Mali on Friday.
The winning strike against Poland came from a coolly taken Panenka-style penalty by Andrea Pinamonti, who has two goals to his name in the World Cup so far.
Although Italy were in control for the majority of the 90 minutes, they weren’t able to kill the match off with a second goal, which inevitably led to a nerve-racking final quarter of an hour in which Poland desperately searched for an equalizer.
The fact that Poland were kept in the match until the end will be something that coach Paolo Nicolato will want to analyse. In his post-match interview, he stated: “The only regret is not having killed the match, because we were playing really well. In the last 20 minutes we felt a bit of fatigue and we ran into difficulty.”
This is an Italian side that is making do without several eligible players for different reasons. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Moise Kean are all regulars with the Azzurri, while Alessandro Bastoni, Riccardo Sottil, and Sandro Tonali are all in Luigi Di Biagio’s pre-squad heading to U21 Euros this summer. Pietro Pellegri would have been a likely candidate for a spot in Nicolato’s squad had he not had such an injury-ridden year and a half.
Despite these absences, Nicolato can count on an exceptionally talented squad that aims to surpass Italy’s best result in the competition: the 3rd place secured two years ago by Riccardo Orsolini, Federico Dimarco and co.
Pinamonti and Pellegrini will be the players that Serie A fans are most familiar with, as they played for Frosinone and Cagliari, respectively last season. Alessandro Tripaldelli, Matteo Gabbia, Enrico Del Prato, Davide Frattesi, and Salvatore Esposito are other key members of the squad that have performed exceptionally well this tournament, and look very promising in terms of future careers at a high level in Italian football.??
Alessandro Plizzari has arguably been Italy’s best player in the tournament thus far, saving their skin on countless occasions – including a spectacular penalty save against Ecuador. He has all the qualities necessary to become a world class keeper, with many already starting to question whether he could overtake Donnarumma in the hierarchy at AC Milan at some point in the future.
Friday afternoon’s match against Mali will bring an entirely different set of challenges. The African squad comes from beating Argentina, who were one of the tournament’s favourites, in a breath-taking match.
The Malians rely on their physicality, which can be a significant advantage in a youth tournament played in the summer heat. Their centre-back Abdoulaye Diaby, an enormous 1.95m in stature, is a constant threat at set pieces, as was the case against Argentina, where he scored Mali’s first goal from a corner kick.
Mali’s stars are Sekou Koita, who is good on the dribble and has a venomous left foot, and Ousmane Diakite, a powerful centre-mid with exceptional technical ability given his size.
It will take a lot of maturity for the Italians to succeed against such a tough opponent, but given what we’ve seen so far there’s no reason to put a ceiling on what Nicolato’s boys can do.