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After failing to make the European U-19 tournament, this young Italy side are out to prove that this current crop can still make the grade at the highest level at the World Under-20 Championship. Goal.com rates the Azzurini’s chances in Egypt.

Things can change quickly in youth football. Just over 12 months ago Italy were in the final of the Under-19 European Championships (an event held annually), but a new crop of players were unable to even make it through to the second qualifying section for the 2009 event.  Italy qualified for the World Championships thanks to their strong performance in 2008, so despite failing to make the grade at European level, this side have a chance to redeem themselves on the world stage.

A missing page

Italy have undoubtedly enjoyed an illustrious history at youth level, but the World Under-20 Championship has always eluded the Azzurri. Indeed, this tournament not only represents the chance to redeem this current squad, but also to erase the memories of a very poor participation four years ago.

Back in 2005, when the tournament was hosted in the Netherlands, the Italians were most disappointing. They managed just one victory at the group stage, triumphing over Canada, and were beaten by Colombia and, more humiliatingly, Syria. The sole victory over the North American side actually prolonged Italy’s embarrassment, as they qualified for the round of 16 as one of the best third placed sides, losing on penalties to Morocco after a 2-2 draw.

That 2005 squad also failed to yield significant players for the future, but performances at youth championships since, the recent failure to reach this season’s European tournament aside, have given more cause for optimism.

The U-20 side of 2008 claimed the prestigious Toulon Tournament, and the U-21 team reached the semi-finals of the European Championships held this summer in Sweden.  Furthermore, the fast-tracking of Davide Santon from Inter straight to the senior national team must also not be overlooked. To portray Italy as a barren waste land of youth development would be far from correct.

Building on 2008

With 2008 consigned to the history books, only six of the squad who played in the Czech Republic to seal Italy’s place at this tournament remain in the team who travel to Egypt. However, much of the responsibility to guide Italy through will fall on their shoulders. Italy lost out in the 2008 final to Germany 3-1, despite enjoying a numerical advantage for much of the game, and the goal scorer for the young Italians that day, Silvano Raggio Garibaldi, is one of those called up into this side.

One who didn’t feature last summer but could make a strong impact in Egypt is Roma full-back Alessandro Crescenzi. Comfortable on either flank, the 17-year-old has already made his debut in the full team, but has been loaned to Grosseto to gain further experience.

For many of these players the tournament will represent a chance to shine, but the majority of them can count on the support of their club, even if many have been farmed out to get more exposure to first team action away from the glare of the Serie A spotlight. One player though isn’t as fortunate: Claudio Della Penna. The midfielder is nominally under contact with Roma, but hasn’t been registered to play for the senior team and is now too old to play for the youth side. Ostracised by his club he trains largely alone, but he is still supported by the Italian Federation for whom he has featured at numerous youth levels. For him the tournament will be a chance to catch various scouts’ eyes.

Full Squad:

Goalkeepers: Vincenzo Fiorillo (Sampdoria), Andrea Gasparri (Giulianova), Antonio Piccolo (Juventus)

Defenders: Michelangelo Albertazzi (Milan), Francesco Bini (Piacenza), Nicolo Brighenti (Pergocrema), Marco Calderoni (Piacezna), Alessandro Crescenzi (Groseseto), Matteo Gentili (Varese), Antonio Mazzotta (Lecce), Vasco Regini (Sampdoria)

Midfielders: Giacomo Bonaventura (Atalanta), Claudio Della Penna (Roma), Andrea Mazzarani (Crotone), Mattia Mustacchio (Ancona), Silvano Raggio Garibaldi (Genoa), Marco Romizi (Reggiana), Fabio Sciacca (Catania)

Attackers: Umberto Eusepi (Reggiana), Piergiuseppe Maritato (Gallipoli), Gianvito Misuraca (Vicenza)

Fixtures

September 25 – Paraguay

September 28 – Trinidad and Tobago

October 1 - Egypt

Prediction

Italy will be pleased that their final game is against the hosts, and they will hope to have wrapped up qualification to the knock-out stage by then. Egypt will be able to count on the fanatical backing of their supporters if the African Cup of Nations of 2006 is anything to go by. Paraguay will be tricky opponents in the first match, but with four points almost certainly enough to guarantee qualification, the match against the young Soca Warriors will be the one the management target to achieve maximum points.

Whilst a failure to qualify for the knock-out stage would rank as a major surprise, exactly how far this young Italy side go remains open to debate. With little first team experience in the side, and missing the like of Alberto Paloschi and Chuka Okaka from the attack, a prolonged stay at the tournament may be beyond this young team.

Walter Townsend, Goal.com

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