Italy
© AFP

The past
Trailblazers for Europe along with Hungary and West Germany at the inaugural FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985, Italy have graced the global stage a total of six times at this level. Their most successful campaign came at Canada 1987, when they reached the semi-finals, and they were back for more in 1991 and 1993, only to exit after the group stage on both occasions. That heralded a 12-year absence, before Gli Azzurrini returned to the final tournament at Peru 2005. Once again they were unable to graduate from their group, but their fortunes improved at Nigeria 2009, when they were only stopped in their tracks by eventual winners Switzerland in the last eight.

The present
Italy contested 11 games between their opening qualifier for the UEFA European U-17 Championship and the final itself, and they lost just one – a 3-2 defeat by Hungary in their last outing in the first qualifying round, when they had already sealed their progress. Once through to the continental showcase in Slovakia, they kicked off with a goalless draw against Group B rivals Croatia, before seeing off Ukraine and playing out a 1-1 draw with Russia, with whom they were eventually reunited in the final. Second place in the section earned them their spot at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013, and Italy followed up by downing the hosts 2-0 in the last four. Their dreams of lifting the trophy were shattered in the decider, however, as Russia were crowned European champions following their penalty shoot-out win at the end of a goalless stalemate.

The future
Despite an impressive four FIFA World Cup™ triumphs at senior level, Italy have never won a global title in a younger age group – a fact that coach Daniele Zoratto is determined to address in the UAE. "With that in mind, we've taken part in qualifying tournaments that have made us realise that this team is capable of doing something great," said the former Italy midfielder, who formed part of an excellent Parma side in the 1990s. "Game after game, the players have grown more confident in themselves and they've seen that our methods work. Now they trust us absolutely in what we tell them to do on the pitch, because the results prove that we're right."