Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Owen Neilson On November - 10 - 2011

Serie B Focus: Azzurrini Go Up in Smoke

While Serie A takes its third break two months into a delayed season, teams in Serie B are double yoked, with a full set of fixtures on matchday 15 and the league’s bright young stars fleeing to Istanbul for a hit on the international hookah pipe.

Fifty-two sides are battling it out for a mere seven spots in the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship in Israel. To put that in some perspective, fifty-one teams attempted to qualify for fourteen places at Euro 2012, Euro 2016 will have twenty-four berths.

What’s more puzzling is the process began on March 25th 2011, three months before the Finals of the 2011 tournament had begun. It lasts for one year and five months, 109 days longer than the senior version, but none of the teams have the security of automatic qualification. All the places are earned after a fourteen team play-off. So it’s fair to say there will be a continent of disappointed young footballers mid-September next year.

That disappointment was felt no more acutely than by Italy’s fledglings at the end of qualifying for the 2011 version held in Denmark.  After narrowly topping their group, level on points with Wales but holding a superior head-to-head record the Azzurrini went into the knockout stage against Belarus. A 2-0 win in the first leg was followed by heart-breaking extra-time defeat when Aleh Veratsila booked Belarus’ place in the finals. Italy’s side, the most decorated in the tournaments 33-year history with five titles, failed to qualify for only the second time.

Ciro Ferrara’s first game in charge of the Under-21s was against Turkey on November 17th 2010, a 2-1 win, and he is expected to begin his second year in charge with a 100% record.

The Little Blues have nine points from three games and play Group 7 leaders Turkey in the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Stadium this evening. The hosts have twelve points but Italy have two games in hand, meeting Hungary at the Stadio Giuseppe Capozza next Tuesday before the qualifying takes an absurdly long six month break.

Roma’s Fabio Borini and Pescara’s Lorenzo Insigne are out due to suspension so Ferrara has recalled AC Milan’s Stephan El Shaaraway for the first time since February to bolster the attack.

Pescara’s Carlo Pinsoglio will take the gloves once more, though it would have  been good to see  Mattia Perin also get a call up after the 18-year-old’s efforts in the Padova goal. Perin’s teammate, Giulio Donati can feel aggrieved not to make a start after nine games for the Biancoscudati this season and with captain Davide Santon playing only 103 minutes since his move to Newcastle United in August. The former Inter Milan and Cesena defender needed fluid drained from his knee in September to avoid surgery and Danny Simpson’s excellent form in the Magpies’ undefeated start to the season has meant Santon has played more international than domestic football this term.

The Azzurrini have riches at right-back with Alessandro Crescenzi, on loan from Roma, showing Serie A pedigree for Bari this season. The 20-year-old should continue his role on the other flank alongside Inter’s Luca Caldirola, yet to make a league appearance, and Pescara’s Marco Capuano.

Hopefully Ferrara gives Marco Crimi his first cap after the young midfielder’s impressive performances for Grosseto. It would be a dispiriting message to send out if the coach persists with Juventus’ Luca Marrone alongside Fausto Rossi. The 21-year-old hasn’t played a minute of club football this season while Crimi has started twelve of fourteen league matches for the Grifone.

Empoli’s Riccardo Saponara scored the first goal against Turkey at the Stadio Centro d’Italia and will slot in on the right with another Roma youth player, Alessandro Florenzi, now at Crotone, likely to deputize for Insigne on the left. Ferrara has said he wants a repeat performance of the 2-0 win four weeks ago so it’s likely he’ll keep the side settled to take control of the group, though he may change things for the game against Hungary.

Despite the absentees upfront the former Napoli and Juventus defender has depth to come in with Alberto Paloschi, on loan at Chievo from Milan, and Mattia Destro who has three goals in five games for Siena, both available.

For all the struggle of getting to the finals it has exhibited some of the continent’s finest down the years, the ‘Golden Player’ roster reads like a who’s who of European talent; Rudi Voller, Laurent Blanc, Davor Suker, Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Petr Cech, Alberto Gilardino, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and this year, Juan Mata.

If the Azzurrini can navigate qualification perhaps 2013 will offer another Italian great in the making.

Full Squad:

Goal Keepers: Bardi (Livorno), Colombi (Juve Stabia), Pinsoglio (Pescara);

Defenders: Antei (Grosseto), Caldirola (Inter), Capuano (Pescara), Crescenzi (Bari), Donati (Padova), Mori (Empoli), Faraoni (Inter), Santon (Newcastle);

Midfield: Bertolacci (Lecce), Crimi (Grosseto), Florenzi (Crotone), Marrone (Juventus), Rossi (Vicenza), Saponara (Empoli);

Forwards: Destro (Siena), El Shaarawy (Milan), Gabbiadini (Atalanta), Paloschi (Chievo), Ragusa (Reggina).

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