FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019

FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019

23 May - 15 June

FIFA U-20 World Cup

Younger generation offers hope to success-starved Italy

Andrea Pinamonti of Italy and Matteo Gabbia celebrate 
© Getty Images
  • Italy have not won a major tournament since Germany 2006
  • The crop of players competing in Poland have earned plaudits
  • The future looks bright for Italian football

When will Italian football regain its lustre? Almost two decades have gone by since the Azzurri claimed glory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, and in the meantime the country has experienced a series of disappointments on the world stage, with the Russia 2018 play-off defeat representing their nadir.

But now that the team is going through a rebuilding phase with Qatar 2022 on the horizon, the international performances of a younger crop of Italians suggest that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

In Poland on Tuesday, Gli Azzurrini will take on Ukraine in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Regardless of the outcome of the match or the tournament, Paolo Nicolato’s men will have proven that there is significant depth to Italian football, and that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

“Participating in the next World Cup in Qatar is the goal for all of us. We are working hard to make it happen through gaining experience in international competition."

Italy forward Andrea Pinamonti

Talent throughout

The Italian game built its considerable reputation using the famous “catenaccio” system, which required top-quality goalkeepers to seal the defence and come up with crucial saves whenever a crack appeared in the wall. In Poland, Alessandro Plizzari has made several fine reaction saves and has only conceded three goals in five matches.

Andrea Pinamonti, captain of this Italy U-20 side, has a long road ahead of him before he is allocated the label of “fuoriclasse,” a term that describes extraordinary players who can influence a match singlehandedly and lead a team to unprecedented success. But the tournament’s second-top scorer (four goals) has shown that he possesses both verve and class, as demonstrated by his audacious Panenka penalty against the host nation and his brace in the quarter-finals versus Mali.

Nicolato has made few changes to the team since the beginning of their U-20 World Cup adventure, even when nine of his starting XI had a potential suspension hanging over them, as was the case in the Mali game. This not only demonstrates his satisfaction with his charges’ performances thus far but also that his preferred 11 starters have sufficient consistency and maturity to perform well over a series of top-level matches.

"Our youth teams have been very successful in recent years and our federation is satisfied with that. We have players who come into the set-up and instantly shine, showing their value. Though we haven't managed to win a title yet, the conquering spirit is good for Italian football."

Italy head coach Paulo Nicolato

Since last year, the senior side has been on the lookout for new blood. Roberto Mancini has been put in charge of the rebuilding job, with young players a particular priority of his. Federico Chiesa, Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Pellegrini all played an active part in La Nazionale’s most recent victory – over Greece (3-0) on Saturday – and they are all just a little older than the Poland 2019 semi-finalists.

For those starlets, getting past Ukraine and lifting the U-20 World Cup trophy is undoubtedly the best way to catch Mancini’s eye and give Italian football a spring in its step again.

Near misses

Over the last three years, Italy’s youth teams have come within arm's reach of several trophies.

  • FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017: Third place
  • 2018 UEFA U-19 European Championship: Second place
  • 2016 UEFA U-19 European Championship: Second place
  • 2019 UEFA U-17 European Championship: Second place
  • 2018 UEFA U-17 European Championship: Second place

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