Tuesday June 13 2017
Golden Azzurrini Era

The number of players flowing between senior and Under-21 Italy squads bodes well for the Euros and beyond, writes Richard Thomas.

With Italy's senior team having completed a successful week of international action with two wins and no goals conceded, attention now turns to the Under-21 side's upcoming Euro 2017 campaign.

Azzurrini boss Luigi Di Biagio takes his 23-man squad to Poland for the tournament which begins on Friday, but despite the presence of many familiar Serie A starlets, it will not be easy for Italy to win the trophy for the first time since 2004 and for the sixth time in total.

Where last year's senior Euros attracted criticism for its generous new format of allowing 16 of the 24 teams to progress from the group stage, the U-21 edition is the polar opposite and allows only the best to advance.

In a tough-looking group also containing the Czech Republic, Denmark and bookies favourites Germany, such is the format of the 12-team tournament that the Azzurrini must finish top in order to guarantee progression to the semi-finals.

Only the runners-up with the best record across the three groups will secure the other remaining place in the last four, meaning there is precious little margin for error if Di Biagio wishes to go deep into the tournament.

However, the 46-year-old Coach has described his squad as “one of the strongest” at the tournament and on paper it is hard to disagree. As recent transfer speculation has suggested, Gigio Donnarumma is the most sought-after young goalkeeper in Europe, while five of the key players (including Roberto Gagliardini who moved to Inter mid-season) to feature in Atalanta's sensational fourth-place Serie A finish are also involved. The presence of the likes of Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi, both set to play in their final youth competition, add a real look of quality and experience to Di Biagio's squad.

It is testament to just how seriously Italy are taking this competition - as well as a sign of Giampiero Ventura's thinking for next summer's senior World Cup in Russia - that five of the players part of the recent senior squad will now join up with the Azzurrini rather than go on their summer holidays.

As well as Donnarumma and Bernardeschi, Simone Scuffet, Andrea Conti and Lorenzo Pellegrini all featured in the full international squad for the double header against Uruguay and Liechtenstein, while Rugani, Gagliardini, Danilo Cataldi, Federico Chiesa, Domenico Berardi and Andrea Petagna are all senior internationals.

The squad takes on a far stronger and more high-profile form than the nucleus of players who featured in qualification last year. Above all, and that is a great sign for Italian football in general, they all have plenty of regular Serie A playing time under their belts.

As mentioned, despite the strength of the squad, the likelihood is that Italy will have to win a bare minimum of two of their three group matches to stand a chance of making the latter stages. It should be a close-run thing with Stefan Kuntz's German side for top spot, while the likes of Spain and Portugal are likely to await if the Azzurrini do advance.

Nevertheless, the competition will prove an invaluable experience for a group of players set to get a taste of tournament football one year before the biggest of them all. The fluidity between the senior and U-21 sides put in place by Ventura and Di Biagio should only aid the development of this exciting crop of Azzurrini as they strive towards the ultimate goal of being on the plane to Russia this time next year.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
It's only good if he actually uses them now so they become accustomed to the pressure that goes with being in the national squad.
I see no absolutely no point in Buffon and co even being on the pitch against teams like Liechtenstein. Others need to be integrated now.
Its insane how long Insigne has been around and is only now really being used on a regular first team basis when there has been a lack of quality in a role that he plays.
on the 13th June, 2017 at 4:37pm
This indeed might be the Golden era coming as all these lads grew up as Italy won the 2006 Worldcup. This might be the same reason Italy has reached the Final of the Worldcup every 12 years since 1982's Zoff team. Good times ahead my friends. Forza Italia!!
on the 13th June, 2017 at 9:59am

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