The Under-19 European Championship finals get under way on Saturday, with Italy Under-19s and Group A opponents Romania Under-19s clashing in the second match of the tournament.
The teams convene in the Slovakian town of Dunajska Streda, as the championship finally returns after being cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An action-packed schedule awaits all eight competing nations at this summer’s Under-19 Euros, and the destiny of four Group A contestants will be decided across three fixtures in the space of just seven days.
The top two teams in both groups will progress to the semi-finals, and each will automatically qualify for the 2023 Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia – along with the winner of a play-off between the sides finishing third.
Therefore, Italy will seek to make a fast start in a tough section also featuring the next-gen stars of hosts Slovakia and favourites France; ultimately aiming to replicate the nation’s last victory in this age group, back in 2003, when Alberto Aquilani and Giampaolo Pazzini featured in the successful squad.
The Azzurrini qualified for these finals in some style, as they topped preliminary Group 12 by sweeping aside Lithuania, Iceland and Slovenia, before coming through the elite round in impressive fashion.
A draw with Germany and victories over both Finland and Belgium saw Carmine Nunziata‘s side through the process, as this summer’s breakout star in the senior squad, FC Zurich’s Wilfried Gnonto, finished top scorer on five goals.
Having concluded their pre-championships training camp at Villaggio Azzurro in Novarello, Italy will now base themselves in Samorin, 25km outside of the Slovakian capital Bratislava.
They will hope to remain in situ until the tournament’s conclusion on July 1, but before facing the hosts and finishing off their Group A campaign with a heavyweight contest versus France, Nunziata’s boys must first set the ball rolling against outsiders Romania.
Having never before made it past the group stage, the Romanian squad are aiming to break new ground for their nation, whose football heritage runs deep, despite barren times over the past 20 years.
The 1962 Under-18 champions of Europe have a shot at the finals this summer thanks to progressing past the initial round with wins over Latvia and San Marino, though they also lost to Turkey.
In the elite round, Romania were Group 4 winners, as victories over Georgia and Croatia rendered a subsequent 3-0 defeat by Iceland irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Unirea Constanta forward Andreas Chiritoiu‘s three goals were instrumental in securing such success, and coach Adrian Vasai may well turn to his star striker for inspiration again in a particularly tough group.
Italy Under-19s form (all competitions):
Romania Under-19s form (all competitions):
After Carmine Nunziata cut his squad down to its final 20-player selection earlier this week, Italy will feature several talents based at top Serie A sides – though few with much first-team experience.
Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Desplanches will start in goal on Saturday, while Australia-born Cristian Volpato, who broke into the Roma senior setup towards the end of last season, should be involved at some stage.
Having made his senior Azzurri debut this month and subsequently played a part in all four Nations League matches, 18-year-old forward Wilfried Gnonto is set to start up front, as his busy summer schedule continues.
Meanwhile, Romania are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with FC U Craiova goalkeeper Robert Popa captaining the side.
Defender Andrei Coubis, of Milan, should come up against some familiar faces at the heart of the back four, while Andreas Chiritoiu starts up front.
Italy Under-19s possible starting lineup:
Desplanches; Mulazzi, Ghilardi, Coppola, Giovane; Fabbian, Faticanti, Casadei; Volpato; Gnonto, Ambrosino
Romania Under-19s possible starting lineup:
Popa; Pirvulescu, Danuleasa, Coubis, Pantea; Pandele, Mihai; Hofman, Ilie, Andronache; Chiritoiu
We say: Italy Under-19s 1-0 Romania Under-19s
As neither side will want to come away empty-handed from their opening fixture of the finals, it may well be a cagey affair on Saturday evening.
Italy have the more impressive recent record, though, and if Gnonto is ready to start again, they will have one of the tournament’s top players at their disposal.
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Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data
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