FRANCESCO GOTTARDI / AIPS in BOLOGNA*: The expectations of the UEFA U21 EURO hosts have been vindicated. After a remarkable comeback in a high-quality game Italy defeated Spain 3-1 in their opening match in Group A and wrestled the tournament in their favour.
The performance took place in the spectacular and noisy framework of a sold-out Dall’Ara stadium. But, more than enthusiasm, the fans in the stands weighed Italy down with the responsibility.
As a result, coach Luigi Di Biagio’s team began cautiously if not passively and Spain quickly seized the opportunity to take the initiative, led by the pure talent of Real Madrid’s Dani Ceballos.
After only 10 minutes La Rojita’s No10, having escaped Nicolo Barella, curled a shot from just outside the penalty box into the top corner for what will be one of the most delightful goals of the competition.
Italy’s reaction was long in coming, with Ceballos dominant for the first part of the match. But, despite his inspiration between the lines, Spain proved ineffective in attacking keeper Alex Meret’s goal.
Then, as if by magic, up popped Federico Chiesa. A long ball from Barella was precise, the control of Fiorentina’s winger perfect and his speed up on the left ended up with a stunning equalising shot that surprised Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon on his near post.
Italian fears suddenly vanished and local supporters were further energised by the sight of Bologna’s golden boy Riccardo Orsolini substituting or the injured Nicolò Zaniolo.
The beginning of the second half brought a more vibrant game with a remarkable back-and-forth among the two teams. First, Chiesa went close to the second goal with a sharp right-foot shot from the left side of the box that grazed the far post. Then it was Carlos Soler’s turn to strike from long range and force a fine save from Meret.
The solution to the open game was provided, once again, by Chiesa. After 63 minutes, a combination between Patrick Cutrone and Orsolini saw the ball end up at Chiesa’s feet. The right man in the right place at the right time to score a second goal.
Luis de la Fuente’s Spanish players increased their pressure in the final sector before Dutch referee Serdar Gozubuyuk, after a VAR review, penalized Carlos Soler in the 82th minute for bundling over Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Italy midfielder made no mistake with the penalty to put Italy 3-1 ahead. Game over and Italy’s fans sang out their national anthem just as they had before kickoff.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com