Jovic, England, Kean and the biggest disappointments of the Under-21 Euros

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The tournament in Italy has featured plenty of goals and great games but there's no denying that some teams, coaches and players have underwhelmed

The 2019 European Under-21 Championship has been a joy to behold so far.

From more than 80,000 people turning out to watch hosts Italy in action to Romania legend Gheorghe Hagi leading a 5,000-strong army of his nation's supporters from the centre of Cesena to the Stadio Dino Manuzzi for their game with England, the tournament has well and truly captured the imagination of the public.

It has been a delight on the field, too, with 64 goals scored in just 18 games to date, at an average of 3.6 per game. It has truly been a celebration of 'The Beautiful Game'.

However, it's not been without its let-downs, or indeed its controversies.

With the group stage having now been completed, Goal picks out the tournament's biggest disappointments...


MOISE KEAN


Moise Kean Luigi Di Biagio Italy U21s

If Alanis Morissette could actually understand irony, she would have enjoyed the circumstances surrounding the end of Moise Kean's participation in the Under-21 Euros.

Just hours before Italy's must-win meeting with Belgium in Reggio Emilia, Moise Kean posted a video on Instagram of him singing the chorus of the Benji & Fede song 'Dove e Quando':

"Tell me where and when, tonight I won't arrive late, and I have no more stupid excuses, even the traffic doesn't matter."

The post was quickly deleted after Kean and his room-mate and best friend, Nicolo Zaniolo, arrived late for an Italy team meeting.

Coach Luigi Di Biagio responded by benching Kean for what the striker had, just 24 hours previously, described as "one of the biggest games of my career" and omitting the already suspended Zaniolo from the squad completely.

Kean didn't see a minute of action, even with Italy pressing furiously late on to increase their margin of victory so as to boost both their goal difference and, in turn, their chances of progressing to the last four as the best runner-up.

Make no mistake about it: Kean should have been one of the stars of this tournament.

He was in form, having scored seven times for Juventus last season, and he was fresh, having played just 664 minutes of club football.

He lasted just an hour of Italy's opening win over Spain and was unable to make an impact off the bench in the costly loss to Poland.

It was off the field, though, that he really let himself down.

As Di Biagio was at pains to point out in his post-match press conference in Reggio Emilia, Sunday wasn't the first time the 20-year-old had breached team rules.

He is still so young, the hope is that he will learn from this jarring experience.

He will certainly have plenty of time to ponder his ill-discipline, with Roberto Mancini now set to follow suit and exclude Kean from his next squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.  

Where and when we will next see Kean in an Italy shirt is unclear at this stage.


ENGLAND


Aidy Boothroyd England

Many things are now being levelled at Aidy Boothroyd after England's embarrassing first-round elimination in Italy but one could never accuse the under-fire manager of a lack of honesty.

He was admirably open and frank with reporters, never once losing his head even though all around him were losing theirs as the Young Lions bowed out with a whimper and without winning a single game.

However, perhaps Boothroyd was honest to a fault.

Some of the more cynical members of the English press pack could not believe that the England boss didn't make up a minor injury for Phil Foden, having sensationally decided to leave his best player out of the starting line-up for the must-win meeting with Romania on matchday two.

In defending his choice by bizarrely claiming he needed to "manage the minutes" of a 19-year-old who started just 11 games for Manchester City last season, he left himself wide open to ridicule.

There was also widespread disbelief when Boothroyd openly admitted that Aaron Wan-Bissaka - who scored a calamitous own goal in the 2-1 defeat to France - had been dropped after having his "head turned" by his imminent move to Manchester United. It was felt that the right-back had essentially been thrown under the bus by his coach.

As well as failing to sort out England's porous defence, which was breached a whopping nine times in three games, Boothroyd was also criticised for bringing on two conventional centre-forwards at a time when 10-man England needed outlets and players capable of getting on the ball when they were struggling to retain possession in the closing stages of the French game.

Ostensibly, Boothroyd is still in a strong position, having signed a new, two-year contract just before the Euros began. In addition, as he was quick to point out, several eligible players were called up by senior team boss Gareth Southgate for the Nations League, while he could hardly be held accountable for some of the dismal unforced errors committed by his defenders.

"When you look at the calibre of the players making the mistakes, it doesn't make sense," he lamented after Monday's 3-3 draw with Croatia.

One wonders now, though, whether it makes sense to continue with a coach who made a number of puzzling selections and failed to get to grips with a worrying level of over-confidence and complacency evident in his players, on and off the field.


LUKA JOVIC


Luka Jovic Serbia

Before signing for Real Madrid on June 4, Luka Jovic had approximately 470,000 followers on Instagram. At the time of writing, he has nearly three times that amount (1.3 million).

Madrid fans are now watching his every move with interest, which will only make the striker all the more disappointed with his Euros campaign.

Admittedly, Serbia were exposed as a side badly out of their depth in Italy, with the legendary Rade Bogdanovic even calling for every member of the squad to be forced to do a year in the army to learn some discipline after losing all three games and scoring only once, via the penalty spot.

In addition, it is worth remembering that they wouldn't have made it this far without Jovic, who top-scored for his nation with seven goals during their qualifying campaign.

"I did not play as good as I can," he acknowledged. "But a couple of games can not kill everything I showed last season."

Very true, but Jovic nonetheless offered little to illustrate why Madrid elected to pay €70m to prise him away from Eintracht Frankurt this summer.

In two appearances in Italy, he didn't register a single goal or assist, failed to complete a single dribble and managed just five shots on goal, only one of which hit the target. At no point, did he look like a player usurping Karim Benzema as Madrid's first-choice No.9.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that the 21-year-old was always likely to be feeling the physical and mental strain after signing for one of the biggest clubs in the world on the back of a brilliant breakout campaign in which he scored 27 times in 48 appearances in all competitions.

In that context, fatigue is a perfectly valid excuse and it would be wrong to judge a player’s ability based on one bad tournament.

That will be of little consolation to Jovic, though, who described himself as "the happiest man in the world" after sealing his switch to the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Euros will have quelled his enthusiasm a tad, having made a bad first impression on his many new followers.


LUIGI DI BIAGIO


Luigi Di Biagio Italy

In announcing his decision to resign as Italy Under-21s boss after six years at the helm, Luigi Di Biagio insisted that his side's failure to reach the knockout stage at a Euros they were hosting hadn't influenced his decision to walk away.

"I would have left anyway," he told reporters on Tuesday morning. "I no longer felt 100 per cent motivated to continue.

"Maybe there would have been a small chance of staying, just for the Olympics.

"But clubs from Serie A and Serie B have looked for me before. Out of respect for the FIGC (Italian Football Federation), I always said no.

"But thanks to my growth here over these years, I feel ready for new challenges."

The problem now for Di Biagio, though, is that his reputation has been damaged by the Azzurrini's shockingly early elimination. Many, many fans of the national team are happy to see him go.

In Di Biagio's defence, Italy were unlucky to bow out after winning two of their three games, including a rousing 3-1 victory over Spain in their tournament opener.

However, in a way, that triumph merely deepened the disappointment surrounding the subsequent 1-0 loss to a limited Poland side that ultimately cost Italy a place in the semi-finals.

The way in which the Azzurrini overwhelmed La Rojita thrillingly illustrated that this was a team with the talent - and the passionate local support - capable of winning the tournament.

After all, Di Biagio had been allowed to pick senior stars such as Moise Kean, Nicolo Zaniolo, Nicolo Barella and Federico Chiesa by Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini.

He deserves credit for the way in which he handled Kean and Zaniolo's ill-discipline, while he certainly got the best out of Chiesa, who was arguably the player of the group stage.

However, the abiding memory of this tournament will not be the Fiorentina winger's wonderful goals or scorching runs down the left flank but Di Biagio's mishandling of the Polish match.

That night in Bologna, he got his tactics horribly wrong, by pumping cross after cross into a penalty area full of tall Polish players.

Such a naive approach cost his side the game and it could also end up costing him a top job in Serie A - or even Serie B.


THE FORMAT


France Romania

For an alleged biscotto (an Italian footballing term meaning ‘biscuit’ used to describe two teams deliberately playing out a mutually beneficial result), Romania against France really was a cracker.

Neither side managed a single shot on target during a game that both nations only needed a point from to ensure qualification for the semi-finals. It's almost as if they didn't even try to pretend they were trying.

Given Italy stood to progress if either Romania won or France prevailed by three goals or more, the hosts were the most incensed by the mutually beneficial outcome.

However, even the Azurrini acknowledged that they only had themselves to blame for needing to rely on results elsewhere.

In addition, there is always the odd chance of a biscotto at major international tournaments.

West Germany's infamous 1-0 victory over Austria at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which became known as the 'Disgrace of Gijon' as the result saw both qualify for the next round at Algeria's expense, prompted the authorities to change the rules and ensure that the final two matches in a group would kick off at the same time.

However, it would be a logistical nightmare staging every single set of final games on the same day and at the same time, which only underlines the folly of employing a format which means the results in one group can affect qualification from another.

It should always be either the group winners or the top two teams that go through to the next round. Tournaments that allow any third-placed sides to progress to the knockout stage from four-team groups are bound to throw up farcical results. This summer's Copa America and Women's World Cup have proved as much.

But this is nothing new. Portugal winning Euro 2016 after failing to record a single victory in their group was a bad joke.

The best third-placed team format essentially rewards mediocrity with a place in the group stage, and prolongs already over-inflated tournaments, thus diluting the quality of the football.

The Under-21 Euros offered a perverse twist on the modern international tournament: with just 12 teams on show, divided into three groups of four, only one runner-up was guaranteed a place in the knockout stage.

It meant that Italy and Denmark were both eliminated despite finishing second in their respective groups, after winning two of their three games.

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It merely hammered home the point that such tournaments should only ever have a number of participants easily reduced to four, eight or 16 teams.

Happily, the next Under-21 Euros, in Hungary and Slovenia in 2021, will have 16 teams.

That will serve as little consolation to Italy and Denmark, though.

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