Manolo Gabbiadini bagged a brace as Italy thrashed 10-man Israel 4-0 to reach the Under-21 European semi-finals, but Lorenzo Insigne was stretchered off.
The Azzurrini maintained their 100 per cent record in the group after a 1-0 win over England. Hosts Israel were held 2-2 by Norway and the Scandinavians knocked the Young Lions out 3-1 earlier this evening.
Luca Marrone is out for the rest of the tournament with a strained hamstring, so new Milan signing Riccardo Saponara and Gabbiadini stepped in and the team moved to a 4-3-3. Israel had to do without Marwan Kabha with an abdomen injury. The Azzurrini wore black armbands as a sign of respect for a soldier killed in Afghanistan today.
Insigne tested the goalkeeper with a snapshot from the edge of the box, while Alon Turgeman was inches away from getting the tap-in at full-stretch as the Israel Zaguri ball flashed across the face of goal.
However, Italy scored on the counter with a well-worked move. Insigne’s cross-field pass was knocked down by Ciro Immobile for Saponara to smash home on the half-volley from 12 yards.
Turgeman threatened again when sent clear by Mohammad Kalibat, but hit a fresh-air shot from 10 yards. Immobile’s strike was deflected over the bar and Saponara nearly got a second, forcing a one-handed save out of Boris Kleyman at the near post.
Moments later Gabbiadini sprung the offside trap and got past the goalkeeper, but Israel scrambled a clearance.
Israel went down to 10 men on 37 minutes when Eyal Golasa dived into a two-footed tackle on Saponara and was shown a straight red card. It was perhaps a harsh decision, but Golasa should’ve been sent off for a horror tackle against Norway in the opening game.
Just before he was dismissed, Golasa had also clattered into Insigne and the Napoli talent was stretchered off clutching his shin, making way for Fausto Rossi.
Italy doubled their lead before the break, as Immobile dribbled forward to the D where he rolled across for Gabbadini’s snapshot into the far bottom corner.
Bologna starlet Gabbiadini added a second to his tally after the break, hitting a fierce low free kick round the wall and into the bottom far corner. Curiously, these were his first Italy goals since Coach Devis Mangia took over from Ciro Ferrara last summer.
Substitute Mattia Destro tested Kleyman with an angled drive, but the game had effectively turned into a training session.
Alessandro Florenzi added to the rout with a give-and-go with his Roma teammate Destro, nutmegging a defender and waltzing into the box to stroke the finish past Kleyman with the inside of his right boot.
Italy swept through to the semi-finals and will be top of the group as long as they don’t lose the last game to Norway. They’ll face one from Spain, Germany, Holland and Russia in the next round.
Italy 4-0 Israel
Scorers: Saponara 18 (It), Gabbiadini 42, 53 (It), Florenzi 71 (It)
Italy U-21: Bardi; Donati, Caldirola, Bianchetti, Biraghi; Saponara, Florenzi, Verratti (Sansone 70); Insigne (Rossi 39), Gabbiadini (Destro 57), Immobile
Israel U-21: Kleyman; Dasa (Verta 46), Vahaba, Ben Harush, Twatha; Zaguri, Krieff, Biton, Golasa; Kalibat (Azam 83); Turgeman (Barouch 66)
Ref: Hategan (ROM)
Sent off: Golasa 37 (Is)
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition  - £5,000 monthly.