June is a busy month for Italy fans. The Confederations Cup is about to start, while the Under-21s have been impressing audiences in Israel. Devis Mangia’s Azzurrini are through to the last four of the European Championships following victories over England and the hosts, plus a draw with Norway.
We know not to overhype kids but it’s tantalising to see Italy’s future before your eyes. When Marco Verratti executes another fine cross-field pass or when Lorenzo Insigne curls in a free-kick you can’t help but be excited. To delve into the realms of Fantacalcio, it’s intriguing to look ahead to next June and think who could graduate to the Azzurri. A lot can happen in 12 months but hey, speculation is what this time of year is all about, right?
Not all the young brigade are in Israel, with Cesare Prandelli opting to include Milan trio Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio in his Brazilian travelling party. And were it not for the Championships, Prandelli says he would have taken more of Mangia’s squad to the Confederations Cup. “We gave up Marco Verratti because the U-21 European Championship is an important tournament. Without the championships in Israel then four of the players in that squad would be with us here right now.”
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder and – presumably – Napoli attacker Insigne are two of the four who are part of the long-term plans. Two-cap player Alessandro Florenzi is another to have caught Prandelli’s eye, while Fabio Borini and club teammate Mattia Destro have been called up in the past year – the former at Euro 2012. Any of the trio could form the other pair.
While missing out on Brazil, the quintet are currently furthering their international development in a tournament atmosphere. No doubt Prandelli would have kept a close eye on the Azzurrini’s early matches and will remain in contact with Mangia. The Championships are a great opportunity to put a hand up for selection during the upcoming season. And Prandelli has shown he is not afraid to give younger players a chance. Aside from the aforementioned five, others will be knocking on the door
The weakest part of the squad is its defence. The goalkeepers are too raw and at the same time Salvatore Sirigu and Federico Marchetti are still serving their apprenticeship under Gianluigi Buffon. Only Giulio Donati and Marco Capuano have any meaningful top flight experience under their belt. Meanwhile, with the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Andrea Ranocchia also seeking a spot with Prandelli, it’s unlikely this U-21 group will see Brazil. In addition, a player not selected in either squad, Davide Santon, will be aiming to stake his claim.
Further afield is where this Azzurrini shine. They are built to attack with flair. Attacking midfielder Riccardo Saponara, 21, epitomises this. He netted against Israel and has generally looked promising. According to Adriano Galliani, the Rossoneri will utilise a playmaker next term and are counting on their new signing: “We will play 4-3-1-2 with either Saponara or Kevin-Prince Boateng as trequartista.” It looks a long shot, but a big year could give Saponara a chance given Prandelli is crying out for a player in that role.
Luca Marrone is vastly experienced at this level and offers versatility, but is not a club regular, hampering any immediate Azzurri desires. His tournament unfortunately ended after one match, denying the opportunity to further impress, but his is a difficult task to displace members of a strong Azzurri midfield.
Striker Manolo Gabbiadini has made his mark on the tournament with a brace against the hosts. He is a promising talent, but needs regular playing time in his preferred position to reach the next level. His chance will likely arrive at Atalanta, where he is co-owned. First-choice for the Azzurrini, Ciro Immobile needs to start scoring frequently in Serie A. The strikers will be battling veteran Alberto Gilardino, who currently has a place in the squad.
One can’t help but feel excited by this current U-21 outfit following what has been a promising tournament to date. They now must negotiate the equally-strong Spanish or Dutch in order to emulate past Azzurrini sides and become European Champions. Come Brazil 2014, this group are sure to have their stamp on Prandelli’s squad.