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UEFA U21 Championship

'Scary' Bielik leaves wasteful Italy fearing nightmare first-round exit

1:10 AM GMT+4 20/06/2019
Rolando Mandragora Italy Poland Under 21
The Azzurrini kicked off their campaign with a thrilling win over Spain but are now facing a must-win game against Belgium after a shock 1-0 loss

Before the European Under-21 Championship began, Poland's Krystian Bielik admitted he faced an uncertain future at club level.

"There is one thing I can say for sure," the versatile centre-back added, "I will definitely not go back to Arsenal's Under-23 team.

"At this stage, it wouldn't make any sense."

It would be even more ridiculous now.

The defender has been the key player in a Poland team that has taken the Under-21 Euros completely by surprise.

A side that only qualified through the play-offs have now won their first two games in Group A, following up Sunday's impressive defeat of Belgium with a stunning 1-0 victory over hosts Italy on Wednesday night.

What's more, a player that former Arsenal Under-23s team-mate Cohen Bramall only last week told Goal was "scary" good, has scored in both games.

His winner against the Azzurrini was as shocking as it was crucial, coming as it did just five minutes before the end of a first half that the hosts had utterly dominated.

With Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa again in scintillating form on the left flank, Italy tore into Poland right from the first whistle.

However, unlike the 3-1 win over Spain, this time the in-demand winger couldn't provide a cutting edge.

Nor could anyone else, for that matter.

Patrick Cutrone – selected to lead the line ahead of Moise Kean – toiled ineffectively up front, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Rolando Mandragora squandered wonderful opportunities to score, while Riccardo Orsolini endured his own personal nightmare.

Chosen ahead of Nicolo Zaniolo on the right-hand side, the Bologna winger saw a fine goal ruled out by VAR for offside and ended up being forced off at the break through injury.

However, not before playing an indirect but crucial part in Bielik's winner.

Dawid Kownacki's free-kick – awarded after a needless challenge from Nicolo Barella on the edge of the area – struck Orsolini in the nether regions, deflecting the ball into the path of Bielik, who found the bottom corner of the net with a first-time half-volley that Alex Meret disappointingly failed to keep out with his right hand.

It was, thus, a painful evening for Orsolini and Italy, in every sense.

With only the group winners guaranteed a place in the semi-finals, the hosts now need to beat Belgium and hope Spain do them a favour against Poland, who boast a 100 per cent record.

And that's a truly frightening position for the Azzurrini to find themselves in, given the 'scary' form of both Bielik and the table-topping Poles.