Italy and San Marino are getting ready to host the 2019 European Under-21 Championship, in which we’ll see an Azzurrini side that – on paper – looks like one of the strongest in its rich history.
Luigi Di Biagio can count on a team stacked with talent, with eight players already with appearances for the full national team, totalling 39 caps between them.
The team is well-equipped in goal, with the option to choose between two quality keepers like Alex Meret and Emil Audero, who both had successful Serie A campaigns with Napoli and Sampdoria respectively.
The squad is overloaded with top-class players in the midfield and front of the team. In particular, Nicolo Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, Federico Chiesa, and Moise Kean are already affirmed stars in the Italian top-flight. One that will certainly draw a lot of attention in the tournament is Sandro Tonali, who hasn’t played in Serie A yet but was a key figure in Brescia’s Serie B winning season.
The backline isn’t quite as illustrious as the rest of the squad, but Di Biagio can still count on players with plenty of Serie A experience, like Alessandro Bastoni and Filippo Romagna, as well as Gianluca Mancini, who recently featured for the full national team under Roberto Mancini. Davide Calabria was unable to recover in time from the fibula fracture he sustained in the Coppa Italia semi-final against Lazio.
This will be Di Biagio’s third U21 European Championship, and he’ll be hoping to win the tournament that has eluded Italy since 2004, when Alberto Gilardino, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi and co. lifted the trophy in Germany.
The event will officially kick off with Poland v Belgium on Sunday afternoon, but most are anxiously awaiting the other Group A match to be played that evening, between Italy and Spain.
As usual, the Spanish have come into the tournament with a tremendously experienced side, with players the calibre of Dani Ceballos, Carlos Soler, Mikel Oyarzabal, and Fabian Ruiz amongst their ranks.
Serie A fans will be familiar with the latter, as he is a key member of Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli. Oyarzabal in particular comes off a very successful season with Real Sociedad, in which he scored 13 goals in the Spanish LaLiga.
The match against Spain could immediately be decisive for qualification to the semifinal, as only the group winner and the best runner-up (out of the three groups) make it to the final four.
The four semi-finalists will automatically qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo next summer. Given that England are ineligible to qualify for the Olympics – as they are part of Great Britain in the event – there will be an Olympic playoff between the two worst runners-up in the groups if the English side make it to the final four.
Italy have come out all guns blazing for this tournament, calling up the best eligible players Italian football has to offer – with the exception of Gianluigi Donnarumma. Considering the level of the squad and the fact that they’re playing at home, Di Biagio will have a lot of expectation for him to lead the Azzurrini to success in the competition.