Wednesday 24th June – 19:45 – Ander Stadium
England Under 21s can qualify for the the European Championships semi-finals with victory over Italy tonight. It’s a bit of an unusual situation in Group B with all four teams still in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. The top two qualify for the last four and England go into the final game with destiny in their own hands as a win will guarantee them a place in the knockout stages. A draw would also be enough for qualification but they would then need Portugal to beat Sweden in the other Group B encounter. However, defeat would knock Gareth Southgate’’s men out of the competition. The Young Lions lost their opening game to Portugal, but beat Sweden last time out thanks to Jesse Lingard’s volley five minutes from time. It was a Swedish side that had beaten Italy, whilst the Italians have also drawn to Portugal. The Azzurrini (Little Blues) are the most successful nation in Under 21 European Championship history with five trophies, but could go out of this one at the group stage. It’s set to be a thrilling end to the group stage, with nerves at a high for all four teams, and you can see how it unfolds on BT Sport 1 from 7pm, with kick-off 45 minutes later.
England Team News
- Alex Pritchard suffered an ankle injury in that 1-0 victory and will miss the remainder of the tournament, which should open the door for Lingard to regain his place from the start.
- Gareth Southgate also has a decision to make regarding Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who impressed from the bench when replacing Tom Carroll in the latter stages of the Sweden victory.
- John Stones is back in contention after recovering from concussion and he is expected to slot straight into the heart of the defence, after missing the opening two games, with either Ben Gibson or Liam Moore dropping out.
The Key Battle: Jesse Lingard vs Davide Zappacosta
With Alex Pritchard out for the tournament with an ankle injury, the left wing spot in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI should go to Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard.
The 22 year old started against Portugal, but was dropped to the bench for the Sweden game. However he made an impact coming on as a sub in the 55th minute, scoring a volley from outside the box late on to secure a vital win for England.
Lingard will want to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, and put in another match winning performance to send the Young Lions through to the knockout stage.
He will more than likely come up against Davide Zappacosta at right-back, who has been a mainstay in an Italy defence which has been chopped and changed in recent matches.
The Atalanta man’s byline-to-byline play and tendencies are a major feature in how the Azzurrini move up the pitch. He regularly puts in crosses, whilst his good stamina means he is also regularly back to carry out his defensive duties. Lingard will need to be ready to do a lot of running as well.
Last Meeting: England 0-1 Italy (5th June 2013)
Italy’s Lorenzo Insigne struck a 79th minute winner as England made a disappointing start to their 2013 European Championship campaign in Tel Aviv. The Napoli winger floated in a 20-yard free-kick to beat Jack Butland. England’s Craig Dawson had scrambled the ball over the line in the 48th minute but the goal was disallowed for a Steven Caulker push in the build-up. Jordan Henderson almost snatched an injury-time equaliser but his free-kick was saved by Francesco Bardi.
The Italy Lowdown
- Manager: Luigi Di Biagio
- Captain: Matteo Bianchetti
- Best Euro Performance: Winners (1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004)
Star Man – Domenico Berardi
Although Domenico Berardi is a Juventus player, he has never featured for the Old Lady despite signing for them two seasons ago. He has instead made his name at Sassuolo, who he bagged 15 goals and 10 assists for last season. This included scoring all four goals in a 4-3 win over AC Milan, which instantly shot him to stardom. Berardi is versatile and has been deployed on either wing or through the centre as a striker or a second striker. If Juventus don’t give him his chance next season, you have to think another European superpower will come sweeping in. The 20 year old scored a penalty in Italy’s 2-1 defeat to Sweden in the opening game of this tournament.
With an attacking free-flowing 4-3-3 system, the Italians have been unlucky not to score from open play so far in the tournament. They’ve created great chances, which the forwards aren’t taking. They’ve got a number of very good passers in team such as Daniele Baselli, which is why there is the need for a trio in the middle of the park. It results in attractive football which anyone in the squad is able to play.
Luigi Di Biagio has complained about the lack of game time that his players have accrued at club level. It’s a point that has been proven, as many of the Italy squad haven’t looked fully match fit in the tournament so far. They are the only team in the tournament without a single youngster capped at senior level. The situation can probably be blamed on an excess of foreign players flooding the country’s youth systems, which is why they are without an Under 21 European Championship trophy in 11 years.
My Prediction: England 1-1 Italy
England haven’t really come out of their shell so far at this tournament, and haven’t shown the quality that many people thought they would. It could be another frustrating game for Gareth Southgate’s men, as Italy have also disappointed so far and don’t want to go out either. It means the result could be a 1-1 draw with Nathan Redmond and Domenico Berardi scoring the goals, which knocks the Azzurrini. England then have to hope that Sweden don’t beat Portugal in the other Group B encounter.