After their fourth-place finish in the Under-20 World Cup, Justin Sousa analysed Italy’s tactical approach and key men.



After their fourth-place finish in the Under-20 World Cup, Justin Sousa analysed Italy’s tactical approach and key men.

Arguably the most well-disciplined side at the Under-20 World Cup, Italy’s tournament run came to a heartbreaking end when a last-minute equaliser in the semi-final was disallowed, as the VAR review deemed there was a foul prior to the goal. Paolo Nicolato’s men were then defeated by Ecuador in extra time of the third-place play-off match with Richard Mina’s 104th minute goal deciding the result, having seen Marco Olivieri’s penalty saved.

The Azzurrini’s fourth place should be viewed as a tremendous success given the personnel from their runners-up finish at the Under-19 European Championship last summer that were unavailable and the poor run of form with which they entered the tournament. This past month truly showed the depth in quality Italy’s 1999 and 2000 generations possess.

Route One with Flair

Italy did not waste any time in showing how they planned to hurt teams through the monstrous hold-up play of Gianluca Scamacca and Andrea Pinamonti. The team’s first goal of the tournament saw the former chest a long ball from Matteo Gabbia into the path of Davide Frattesi for the midfielder to drive a low shot into the net from 23 yards out.

The brutality of Italy’s centre-forwards proved to be incredibly efficient throughout the tournament. It stretched defences wide open, allowing the likes of Frattesi or Luca Pellegrini to pick up possession in the middle or final third and pull the strings for Italy in the offensive third.

Coach Paolo Nicolato stuck to a goalscoring strategy he knew suited his best pair of strikers, but also implemented changes that allowed the rest of his team to get involved in the attack and give the opposition multiple threats to be concerned about.

The Wing-Backs Were Pivotal

Domestic football in Italy, as well as all Italian national teams, are renowned for the productivity of their wide defenders on either side of the ball. For this Under-20 side, Alessandro Tripaldelli, Raoul Bellanova and Antonio Candela were no different.

Tripaldelli started all seven of Italy’s matches as their left-wing-back while Bellanova and Candela alternated who slid in on the right. Off the ball, Italy’s press was initiated by the wing backs the moment their opposition entered their half. They would close off the wide space in order to force negative balls backwards or risky passes into a congested midfield.

Choosing the latter option often meant one of Italy’s central midfielders was already anticipating the move and in a position to intercept the pass. With their opponents out of position, the diagonal ball to the opposite flank was on to spark the counter-attack. Likewise, a return ball to the wing back on the near side held a similar success rate in the opportunities produced from crosses.

Tripaldelli’s tidy ball control, technical brilliance, and lightning quick acceleration left opposition defenders spinning at times. An intricate set of one-two passes with Christian Capone to break Ecuador’s press on his flank was a personal highlight of his from third place play-off.

Bellanova threw in quickly-struck crosses that caught defenders by surprise on multiple occasions. Italy’s third and fourth goals against Mali in the quarter-finals were both products of Bellanova’s vision, forcing a mistake out of Youssouf Koita that led to a penalty and hitting a cross right onto Frattesi’s head to seal the game.

Technically Sound and Industrious in Midfield

Much of the unspoken work to get Italy to the semifinals came from the grit of Pellegrini and Salvatore Esposito. If not for their conscientious positioning and consistent awareness, the offensive tendencies of Italy’s back four would have easily been exposed by any competent team.

Pellegrini single-handedly nullified the influence Diego Lainez had over Italy’s opening clash with Mexico. His astute man-marking frustrated even the most creative playmakers of the tournament, but his ability to avoid picking up yellow cards showed just how much control he held over whoever he was tasked with defending.

Esposito sat in front of the centre-backs, filling in the gaps they left when stepping out of the back line to make a challenge. The SPAL midfielder also acted as the side’s deep-lying playmaker, providing Tripaldelli or Bellanova with possession to further stretch their opponents. Against a compact Poland side, his range of passing proved to be one of the factors that would help Italy break the host nation’s stubborn defence.

Other Individual Standouts

Honorable mentions must be made to Alessandro Plizzari and Marco Carnesecchi, Italy’s go-to men between the sticks.

As the outright Number 1, Plizzari gave Italy the edge to overcome Ecuador in the group stage and Poland in the following round, with a double point-blank save inside the opening five minutes against Ecuador being the highlight of those matches. He also parried two penalties during the tournament. Carnesecchi proved his worth in his cameo against Japan, in which he saved a penalty kick and put on a shot-stopping exhibition to ensure Italy finished on top of Group B.

Gabbia proved to be Italy’s most well-rounded centre-back. If he stepped up to make a challenge, he came out with possession, and consistently made the right decisions when bringing the ball forward for his side. Gabbia proved to be a capable ball-playing CB with the no nonsense defensive attitude of a traditional Italian centre-back.

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