PREVIEW | France face challenging Italian team for Euro U21 opener

The Under 21 Euros kicked off yesterday, with the tournament, hosted by Romania and Georgia, featuring some of the best youth talents from across the continent. France enter the tournament among the favourites as seen by Vulkanbet, with top talent throughout their squad. To win their first trophy in this category since 1988, they first need to make it out of their group, made up of Italy, Norway and Switzerland.

First up is Gli Azzurrini. Just like France, the Italians were booted out of the previous tournament in 2021 at the quarter final stage, losing out to Gonçalo Ramos’ Portugal in extra time. Since, they have gone unbeaten in their qualifying group, but lost two friendlies in late 2022 against England and Germany. Back in March, they steered the ship back into the right direction with wins against Ukraine and Serbia.

Manager Paolo Nicolato trusts the three at the back formation, with very attacking-minded wing backs in Tottenham’s Destiny Udogie and Raoul Bellanova, a Champions League finalist with Inter. In midfield, he has changed the trio quite often, but the regular names are Roma’s Edoardo Bove, the captain, Sassuolo’s Samuele Ricci, and Monza’s Nicolò Rovella. Recent friendlies have also enabled the manager to try out Salvatore Esposito, Cesare Casadei and Juventus attacking midfielder, Nicolò Fagioli.

The roster for the tournament, however, has brought in some players who have been involved with the senior squad lately, such as Sandro Tonali, 19-year-old Fabio Miretti and Leeds winger Wilfried Gnonto.

At senior level, La Squadra have failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and while the win at the 2021 Euros brought hope, there is still a long-running problem in terms of playing young Italians in Serie A. With reduced game time, not only are the Italian clubs not taking advantage of their academies, but the youth and senior international squads are decreasing in quality. That being said, with the current financial situation at Juventus pushing them to play academy talents, and second place for the U20 team at the World Cup last month, there’s certainly hope that things will improve in years to come.

As 5-time winners of the U21 tournament, joint best with Spain, Italy have certainly had great teams in the past. Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro have led their teams to wins in 1998 and 2000, while Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were part of the 2004 winning team. They will hope to regain past glory and go even further than the quarter-final performance of 2021 this time out and it could be worth placing a soccer bet.

Here are three of the standout talents to keep an eye on during the France game on Thursday evening.

Destiny Udogie (Udinese): The very attacking-minded left back has certainly impressed in Italy this season during his loan from Tottenham to Serie A outfit Udinese. Regularly asking for one-twos in space, one could easily compare him to Theo Hernandez. Similar to the Frenchman, he can go on darting runs with the ball at his feet, get involved in the final third and create havoc at every opportunity he can get. Between January 2022 and January 2023, only Marseille player Jonathan Clauss had more goal involvements than the Italian (15 for Clauss, 12 for Udogie) in the position. He charts very well in dribbles, progressive carries, but also interceptions and tackles, and never seems to quit running. A very modern and complete wing-back whose abilities are maximised in Italy’s 3-5-2.

Samuele Ricci (Sassuolo): A jack of all trades, the captain of this team is certainly not one you will necessarily see at first glimpse. However, his work to regain possession in midfield is absolutely crucial, using his height and physique to brush opponents off the ball. What you will certainly notice are his diagonal passes which open up play and start off attacks. Not always successful in his take-ons, but this does not stop him from pushing forward and getting involved around the opposition’s penalty box.

Lorenzo Colombo (Lecce): A modern striker in his purest form. Reaching just over 180cm, Colombo is extremely mobile, has an excellent touch and can strike the ball from any angle. While this has not quite materialised into many goals at club level, he has been greatly involved in this U21s team, scoring 4 in 16 games. Starting most games as part of a front two, he’s most often paired with Matteo Cancellieri, who he runs around, picking up the ball from deep and spreading it forward. What is most striking about him, other than a great technical ability, is that he  isalso extremely motivated to press high up and has a large number of blocks for his position, averaging 1.31 blocks per 90 (according to FBREF). Going back to AC Milan after his loan, he will want to showcase his worth to integrate the first team next season.

A very interesting match to open the competition for both teams. Kicking off at 20:45 CET on Thursday night at the Cluj Arena in Romania, this could already be decisive for the top spot in the group.

GFFN | Tom Abadie

More European Football News