Andrea Bertolacci’s acrobatic last-gasp equaliser gave Italy a 1-1 draw with Norway, so they top the Under-21 European Championship group. It means they will play the second-placed team in the other group, which is either Spain or Holland.
The Azzurrini were already qualified for the semi-finals with two victories over England and Israel, but went head-to-head with the Scandinavians for top spot in the Group. Luca Marrone and Lorenzo Insigne were injured, but Devis Mangia completely revamped the side to start Roma striker Mattia Destro and Chievo’s Alberto Paloschi. Norway also made nine changes to their line-up that beat England 3-1 on Saturday.
Nicola Sansone’s early strike was well smothered, but Norway had an aggressive start and caused a few nervous moments with Joshua King.
Hedenstad proved decisive with a last-ditch intervention to stop Riccardo Saponara getting his shot away after the Empoli man had sprung the offside trap, Parma’s Nicola Sansone then curled just past the far post.
Italy began to get into the game as it wore on and Fausto Rossi’s effort was deflected off target, then from the resulting corner a fingertip save denied Luca Caldirola’s header from six yards.
Goalkeeper Arild Ostbo performed another fantastic save to slow down Destro’s angled drive, as defenders dived in to prevent Sansone tapping in the loose ball.
Genoa trequartista Andrea Bertolacci replaced Saponara at the break, but Italy were unable to make the most of Ostbo spilling a corner after a desperate clearance on Sansone’s cross.
Destro really should’ve scored just shy of the hour mark when he sprung the offside trap and dribbled round the goalkeeper, but narrowed the angle too much and only hit the side-netting of an open goal.
The Roma striker was struggling for form and blasted another great opportunity over the bar moments later.
Norway also went extremely close, as Hedenstad fired an absolute screamer of a free kick from distance that smacked against the crossbar.
Alessandro Florenzi scuffed his shot from just inside the area into the goalkeeper’s arms and Manolo Gabbiadini’s free kick was off target. Bologna forward Gabbiadini also scuffed a good chance wide when one-on-one with Ostbo.
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, the referee awarded a very soft penalty for a Caldirola shove on Strandberg. The captain got back up to convert with a low spot-kick into the near bottom corner despite Bardi guessing the right angle.
This was the first goal Italy had conceded in the tournament and more importantly gave Norway top spot in Group A. Gabbiadini could’ve equalised, but hit a fresh-air volley in stoppages.
In the final minute, Andrea Bertolacci came up with a fantastic equaliser, as Norway struggled to clear and with his back to goal the Roma and Genoa owned starlet hooked the ball up over his head and looped it into the far top corner!
In the other game, hosts Israel beat England 1-0.
Norway 1-1 Italy
Scorers: Strandberg pen 90 (N), Bertolacci 94 (I)
Norway U21: Ostbo; Linnes, Nordtveit, Rogne (Strandberg 54), Hedenstad; Konradssen, Henriksen, Berisha; De Lanlay, King (Ibrahim 74), Nielsen (Kastrati 59)
Italy U21: Bardi; Donati, Capuano, Caldirola, Regini; Saponara (Bertolacci 46), Crimi, Rossi (Florenzi 61), Sansone; Destro (Gabbiadini 72), Paloschi
Ref: Bebek (Cro)