Saturday June 15 2019
Di Biagio: 'Spain already a knockout tie'

Gigi Di Biagio is fired up for Italy’s European Under-21 Championship opener against Spain. “It’s a group game, but already worth a Round of 16 tie.”

It kicks off at the Stadio Dall’Ara in Bologna on Sunday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT). The group also contains Poland and Belgium.

“We have one more training session and I’ve got a couple of doubts, so I’ll decide the line-up tomorrow,” said the Coach in his Press conference.

However, there is one mystery he was happy to clear up straight away, as Emil Audero will be on the bench.

“Alex Meret will start in goal. It’s not quite the same type of role as the others, but nonetheless I can’t say it’ll never be changed.”

Considering all the players who have come back down from the senior squad specifically for this tournament, and the fact they are hosting, Italy have to be one of the favourites.

“There is the right, pleasant kind of tension, the type that allows you to remain concentrated. We are counting on the support of a great crowd.

“We know Spain well and I don’t know if they’re stronger or not than two years ago, but their style of football certainly hasn’t changed.

“You know me, the objective is always to take the game to the opposition and attack. Naturally, that means maintaining the right balance too.

“Our approach to the sport must not change, regardless of who we are up against. This is a group game, but it’s already worth as much as a Round of 16 tie. We’ve got to start with a positive result.”

Italy have a notoriously poor record against Spain at Under-21 level and were knocked out by La Rojita in the semi-finals in 2017, but Di Biagio lives in hope.

“Our Under-21 side have beaten Spain perhaps once in the last 20 years, but it’s been getting tighter. After all, two years ago we were down to 10 men for the entire second half, so hopefully we’ll prove with 11 against 11 that we can compete. It might even be the day we beat them.

“Naturally, what we hope is to win the tournament again, like Cesare Maldini and Marco Tardelli did. It’s true, there is immense pressure, but I’ve been living with pressure for 30 years. I want Italy to play well and try to lift the trophy, knowing that there’s a fine line between triumph and disappointment.”

Italy’s build-up to the competition has been poor, as being the hosts, they only had meaningless friendlies to prepare for the Euros.

These included defeats to Belgium, England and Germany, plus draws with Austria and Croatia, as the only victory was against Tunisia in October 2018.

“We’ll only find out afterwards if that has influenced our preparation.”

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