Italy will meet Russia in the final of the 2013 European Under 17 Championship tomorrow in Slovakia.
The showpiece match comes after the Italians knocked out the host nation on their way to an unbeaten finals campaign and Russia won on penalties in their semi-final game against Sweden to share the unbeaten honour – only one team will remain unbeaten come Friday night.
The match is a repeat of the earlier Group B game where the two sides fought out a 1-1 draw in Nitra.
On that night both sides only needed a point to qualify for their respective semi-finals ties and found it through goals from Aleksei Gasilin and Elio Capradossi. It was a game of mixed attacking and defensive play as Russia began all guns blazing. Once Italy found their second half equaliser, the Azzurini enjoyed the majority of possession and chances but as the game entered its closing stages, with both sides safely qualified, caution became the game plan for each team and the match was to fizzle out, always destined for a point a piece.
Russia are relatively lucky to have scraped through to this stage of the competition after Sweden enjoyed most of the chances in their goalless semi final clash. Ramil Sheydaev’s winning penalty eventually sparked feelings of euphoric relief for Dmitri Khomukha’s men.
Italy seemed to breeze through their semi-final fight with the host nation. Mario Pugliese gave them an early opener and Capradossi – netting his second goal of the tournament from defence – scored the other. Pugliese, if granted a starting place in the final, could score and become the tournament’s top goalscorer. He has already grabbed three so far and been arguably the player of the tournament.
As mentioned in previous articles and tweets, it has been an entertaining tournament and a fresh breath of air for youth football across the continent. Usually dominated by Spain, Germany and Holland, this tournament has seen countries like Croatia, Sweden and the Slovakians a chance to shine and see what their youth contingents can achieve.
Italy and Russia were always the two top dogs in this competition and it is no shock to see them in the final. Does it reflect their future football progression though? Only time will tell.