EDOARDO COZZA / AIPS** in UHERSKE HRADISTE: Domenico Berardi was already an important player for the Azzurrini but now – with the three-match suspension of Stefano Sturaro – he has become the indisputable star of the team at the UEFA U21 Euro in Czech Republic.

However the Sassuolo forward was quick to insist: “I’m not the leader of this group, because the group is the leader. To wear the Italian shirt was a dream since when I was a child. Now I am realizing it and I want to do my best for the team.”

Berardi’s career started by accident. When he was 16 he lived in a little town near Cosenza, in Calabria in southern Italy. He had trials with some major clubs, such as Napoli, but none offered him a contract. So he carried on playing for a minor club, AC Rossano, in the local youth league.

On day, while visiting his brother at university in Modena, he joined in a five-a-side game with his brother’s friends and was noticed, by chance, by Sassuolo’s assistant youth coach, Luciano Carlino. Impressed by Berardi’s skills, Carlino offered him a trial. After only 20 minutes the club decided to sign him.

Thus Berardi started playing in the youth team of a senior club. In 2012 he made his first appearance in Serie B and he went on to play without interruption, scoring 11 goals in 37 matches.

Sassuolo won promotion and in the last two seasons Berardi has scored 31 goals in 61 games in Serie A. He became the eighth youngest player in the history of Italian league to score 30 goals.

Now he is representing Italy at the UEFA U21 Euro while also dreaming about wearing the shirts of the senior national team and that of Juventus, the striker’s co-owners.

Now, against Portugal, Berardi will have an ideal chance to cut a fine figure in front of Antonio Conte, coach of the senior national team.

Italy must win after losing to Sweden and Berardi said: “It will be an incentive to us if he is so we hope to not to miss the goal.”

For Berardi and his team it is all or nothing. He added: “We know that we have to win and only win. Portugal are a very strong team but we want to stay here at the Euro Under-21 and do our best”.

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com

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