Paolo Nicolato’s boys emerged triumphant from their quarter final match-up against Mali, which means they head to the U20 World Cup semi-final that will take place in Lublin on Tuesday.
The Azzurrini were well aware of the threats the Malian side had to offer, and were therefore mentally prepared for the physical battle that eventually took place.
The match immediately took a positive turn as Mali’s No.9, Ibrahima Kone, deflected the ball into his own net with a graceless attempted clearance. Soon after that, Ousmane Diakite –one of Mali’s key players – got himself sent off for a truly shocking challenge on Luca Pellegrini. Italy found themselves a goal up and a man up after 20 minutes, with the Malians having done all of the damage themselves.
Before the match we singled out two players to watch from Mali’s side: Diakite – who got the red card – and Sekou Koita – who was true to his name and proved to be a real handful over the course of the match. It was Koita who brought the match back on level terms after a wonderful combination play with Kone.
In the second half, with Mali beginning to feel the impact of playing a man down, Italy started to take control of the game. Andrea Pinamonti scored a quality goal, but the Azzurrini were once again unable to hold onto the lead, with Mohamed Camara scoring the equalizer for the African side.
Soon after that, however, Italy earned a penalty as a result of a blunder by Youssouf Koita, Mali’s goalkeeper. Pinamonti took a well-placed penalty, scoring his 4th goal of the tournament, which was immediately followed by a spectacular headed goal by Davide Frattesi to make it 4-2.
The match finished with that result, but not before Koita earned his side a penalty, giving Alessandro Plizzari the chance to make his second penalty save of the tournament – Italy’s third overall if we include Marco Carnesecchi’s one against Japan.
Pinamonti was the best player on the pitch on the day. Contributing by scoring two goals and winning the penalty, as well as working tirelessly throughout the 90 minutes to lead Italy’s front line.
The Azzurrini are set to face Ukraine in the semi-final, a team that has made it this far in the tournament thanks to its exceptional defensive solidity. They beat Colombia in the quarter-final with a fairly fortunate goal by Danylo Sikan early on in the match, and proceeded to snuff out any opportunities the Colombians attempted to create.
Sergiy Buletsa is the player of greatest quality on the attacking end, but the most influential players in the squad are centre-backs Valeriy Bondar and Denys Popov, who appear impenetrable on a good day. The latter came off with an injury in the quarter final match, so he is in doubt for the semifinal.
Italy face a stern test on Tuesday, because this Ukrainian side won’t be handing out any gifts the way Mali did. With the unforced own-goal, the reckless red card, and the blunder that led to the penalty, Mali were the catalysts for their own demise.
It’ll be a different story against a well-organized Ukrainian side that fully deserves to be in this World Cup semi-final.
With all of the other favourites already out of the tournament, Nicolato will feel that this is an unbelievable opportunity for his team to achieve something that Italy has never done before: win a World Cup at a youth level.