Federico Chiesa bagged a brace as Italy came back to beat Spain 3-1 in their European Under-21 Championship opener on Sunday.
Italy fell behind to an early Dani Ceballos goal but showed remarkable resilience and quality to get back into the game and put on a second-half show, Lorenzo Pellegrini applying the final touches with a late VAR penalty.
Luigi Di Biagio started with Nicolo Barella and a Zaniolo-Kean-Chiesa attacking trident but no Sandro Tonali or Patrick Cutrone against a Spain side who had Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz in midfield.
The Azzurrini lost to La Rojita in both the last European U21 Championship and the 2013 Final, with their last win coming all the way back in 2006.
The match was also a sell-out occasion at Bologna’s Dell’Ara stadium, but the cheers quickly turned to jeers as Ceballos curled an unstoppable drive into Alex Meret’s top-right corner just eight minutes in.
The Real Madrid starlet was named best player of the last U21 Euros and, for much of the first half, his country were well on top.
However, Italy improved as the break got nearer and Chiesa suddenly burst into life, breaking down the far left, cutting inside and somehow pinging a finish past Unai Simon at his near post.
Although they ended the half strongly, Nicolo Zaniolo was stretchered off and replaced by Bologna favourite Riccardo Orsolini after he took a nasty knock to the face.
Meret was called into action to tip over Carlos Soler’s piledriver, and that proved the catalyst to a great Italy performance in the second half.
Cutrone replaced Kean on the hour mark and took just four minutes to make an impact, holding the ball up to gift Chiesa a tap-in for his second goal.
Spain threatened to pile on the pressure, but the VAR suddenly awarded La Nazionale a penalty, Soler pulling back the Milan striker in the box.
Up stepped Pellegrini, who coolly rolled his spot-kick down the middle to ensure Italy began their European campaign on an emphatic note.
Italy U21 3-1 Spain U21
Chiesa 36, 64, Pellegrini pen 82 (I) Ceballos 8 (S)
Italy: Meret; Calabresi, Mancini, Bonifazi (Bastoni 88), Dimarco; Barella, Mandragora, Pellegrini; Zaniolo (Orsolini 42), Kean (Cutrone 60), Chiesa
Spain: Simon: Aguirregabiria, Vallejo, Mere, Aaron; Zubeldia (Fornals 67), Fabian (Merino 46); Soler, Ceballos, Oyarzabal (Rafa Mir 85); Mayoral