Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the group-stage meeting between Italy Under-21s
and Germany Under-21s
at Stadion Cracovia. It remains all to play for in Group C heading into this final round of fixtures, with three sides battling to make it through. Only Denmark, who play Czech Republic elsewhere this evening, cannot progress into the semi-finals.
We have already seen England and tournament favourites Spain book two of the four semi-final spots, the latter of whom cruised through to group stage with a perfect record. Slovakia are the best-placed runners-up as things stand, but that could all change over the next couple of hours as Italy and Czech Republic could still out them. It is all very complicated, in truth, with numerous permutations to take into account.
For Germany it is all pretty simply - avoid defeat and they are into the semi-finals. In fact, they will also make it through with any sort of one-goal loss, but lose by three and they will be eliminated. This is where it all starts to get a bit crazy, because a 4-2 reverse will see them through, while defeat of any sort for Die Mannschaft and a failure for Czech Republic to beat Denmark by a certain margin and they can prepare for the final four.
It is a similar scenario for Italy, too, as they must beat Germany and hope that Czech Republic slip up against a pointless Denmark. The Azzurrini will be targeting a 3-0 or 3-1 win to guarantee qualification, and they will also go through should they come out on top 2-0 and the Czechs fail to beat Denmark by a greater margin. Rest assured that the picture should - should! - become a little clearer as the night goes on.
ITALY U21s XI: Donnarumma, Conti, Rugani, Caldara, Barreca, Chiesa, Gagliardini, Pellegrini, Benassi, Berardi, Bernardeschi
GERMANY U21s XI: Pollersbeck, Toljan, Stark, Kempf, Gerhardt, Dahoud, Arnold, Meyer, Weiser, Gnabry, Selke
Germany boss Stefan Kuntz
has decided against making any changes to his side once again, sticking with the same XI from the previous two matches. Tonight maybe provided a chance for some of the back-up players to step up, but unlike Spain last night, who reverted to a whole new side, Die Mannschaft are yet to officially make certain of a place in the last four. No risks from Kuntz, then, as he simply wants to get the job done.
It means we get another chance to see Max Meyer up close - a player who has been very lively for the one-time winners of the tournament thus far, pulling the strings from his midfield position. Davie Selke also looked impressive up top last time out, and he is again used as the leading forward, just ahead of Meyer, Serge Gnabry and Mitchell Weiser. Germany will likely go with a hybrid 4-2-3-1 formation, which has worked just fine so far.
A few changes made by Luigi De Biagio, meanwhile, turning to Roberto Gagliardini in central midfield to partner one of the star performers at this level in Lorenzo Pellegrini. Federico Bernardeschi
and Domenico Berardi are tasked with leading the line, while Marco Benassi is another to come in from last time out and will provide some attacking support. Fresh legs could prove key, with Italy requiring a few goals tonight to stand any hope of progressing.
Italy have won this competition a record five times, including four out of five between 1992 and 2000, but they have failed to go all the way since their last triumph in 2004. They have reached the final just once in that time, in fact - fair to say that they are not the force of old at this level anymore. That could be about to change, though, because the Azzurrini were formidable in qualifying, going through as one of six unbeaten sides.
They started the tournament proper well enough, too, beating Denmark 2-0 after an improved second-half display last week, but it all fell apart for them last time out when going down 3-1 to the Czech Republic. It was a disastrous result, with goals from Michal Travnik, Marek Havlik and Michael Luftner leaving Italy on the brink of exiting the competition. As outlined below, they need to win by a comfortable margin to have any hope of remaining alive.
Germany have, rather incredibly, won this competition just once and have made it to the final twice in all. Much like Italy they stormed through qualifying, however, doing so in even more impressive fashion as they did not drop a single point across their 10 matches. They have continued that form into the finals, winning back-to-back games to leave them in this strong position of needing only a point tonight in their toughest fixture to date.
Max Meyer and Serge Gnabry netted to earn Die Mannschaft a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in last week's opening match, before brushing aside Denmark with three second-half goals a few days back. It is not enough for Kuntz to rest his squad, much like Spain yesterday, but an early goal tonight and he can surely start thinking about resting a few legs ahead of the semis. Speaking of which, England will await at that stage if Slovakia go through as the best runners-up.
PREDICTION! So many permutations to keep track of, which does give this match a slight edge. Ultimately, Germany will take a point if offered to them now, but they have stuck with the same XI fielded in the last two matches and quite clearly want to go through with a perfect record. Italy need goals and could therefore be left exposed at the back at times, so I am going to go with a 2-2 draw.
Both sets of players are now out on the field of play, with kickoff at the Stadion Cracovia now just a few minutes away. Plenty of supporters from both nations in attendance, as well as a healthy chunk of locals to fill up the ground. It has all the hallmarks of being a potential classic in Krakow, so fingers crossed that both sets of players have read the script!
There are plenty of permutations regarding tonight's final matches in Group C, with three teams able to make it through. Germany will almost certainly do so, barring a defeat by a few goals, while Italy are not only relying on producing the display of their lives but also on a favourable result from the game between Denmark and the Czech republic. Updates from that one throughout, but attention now turns to events in Krakow.
KICKOFF! Germany get us up and running at the Stadion Cracovia, looking to join Spain in progressing through with a perfect record. The permutations may sound complicated, and that is without evening mentioning that yellow and red card tallies could come into the mix come full time!
A decent delivery from out on the left-hand side, which just about eludes Benassi in the middle. Italy need to start quickly and they have done that, showing plenty of urgency when in possession of the ball in midfield.
The ball is pulled back to Benassi 25 yards from goal, but his lofted cross is nodded clear. The Azzurrini looking very lively, as expected, without being able to create any openings in the early throes of the match.
GOAL DISALLOWED! A thumping header from Marc-Oliver Kempf, getting on the end of a well-delivered free kick from the left, is ruled out for offside. A controversial one, as it was Niklas Stark who was offside - Kempf appeared to be on.
So a positive start from Italy but they are very fortunate not to be behind. Germany with what looked to be a legitimate goal ruled out, with the officials calling that Kempf decision wrong. Drama already in Krakow!
The Azzurrini have been able to keep up the pressure from the opening few minutes. A more balanced game since then, and if anything it is Germany who have looked the more assured when in possession of the ball.
SAVE! A first attempt of the evening for Italy, as Andrea Conti gets forward down the right and sends in a decent delivery for Marco Benassi to glance goalwards. A pretty simple catch for Julian Pollersbeck in the end, though.
Arnold drifts forward and finds himself in a fair bit of space, but he is unable to pick out a more advanced teammate. Germany will be the happier with the way things have panned out in the opening 15 minutes here.
Germany always appear to have a man spare, helped by the fact that centre-back Stark has made his way towards the final third of the pitch. After being allowed to drive forward he blasted the ball well wide of the target.
SAVE! Lorenzo Pellegrini with a long-range attempt that gave Pollersbeck something to think about. The ball moved a fair bit in the air and went through a few bodies, so full credit to the keeper for getting down and pushing it aside.
Italy with a couple of attempts on goal in the opening quarter of the match, but it is Germany who should be ahead having already found the net, only for it to be ruled out for offside. Berardi currently down receiving some treatment.
Some more positive play from the Azzurrini, culminating in a cross coming in from the left and being nodded behind for a corner. The set-piece was dangerous, too, bouncing through the box before being cleared away.
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 0-1 DENMARK U21s (Lucas Andersen, 23)
A big shock in the other Group C match, as already-our Denmark have taken the lead against the Czech Republic. Can Italy capitalise by grabbing a goal of their own here?
CLOSE! Almost a brilliant free kick from Italy forward Federico Bernardeschi, who curled the ball around the wall and just inches wide of the target. Marc-Oliver Kempf booked for a challenge in the build-up to that attempt.
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 1-1 DENMARK U21s (Patrik Schick, 27)
Well that didn't last long! A few minutes after falling behind, Czech Republic level things up to move back into second place. It will not be enough to see them through as things stand.
GOAL! ITALY U21s 1-0 GERMANY U21s (Federico Bernardeschi)
Disaster from Germany, as an attempt to pass it out from the back when three against two backfires massively. Federico Bernardeschi was the man to profit, tucking the ball past Pollersbeck when picked out. A bit of afters, with a few players pushing and shoving in the aftermath.
YELLOW CARDS! Domenico Berardi and Maximilian Arnold were both shown yellow cards for their part in the melee after Italy's opening goal, and Federico Chiesa has now joined them in the referee's book. Starting to boil over a little!
I mentioned how Italy required a few goals tonight, but at the moment that is not the case because Czech Republic are only drawing against Denmark. It means that they top Group C for now, narrowly ahead of Germany in second.
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 1-2 DENMARK U21s (Kenneth Zohore)
Yet another twist in that other game in Group C, as Cardiff City striker Kenneth Zohore has put Denmark back in front. Italy really are in dreamland at the moment, sitting pretty at the summit.
YELLOW CARD! Federico Bernardeschi is the fifth player to be shown a yellow since Italy's breakthrough goal. Germany now managing to up the ante a little, causing panic at the back but winning just a corner.
Italy having to hold on a little now, surviving one scare from a corner but quickly conceding another. Donnarumma comes out and punches it clear, allowing the Azzurrini to break. Their attack soon fizzled out, though.
A reminder that as things stand, with the half-time interval moments away in both games, Italy will go through as group winners. It seemed improbable at kickoff but things have gone their way across these opening 45 minutes.
HALF TIME: ITALY U21s 1-0 GERMANY U21s
Another yellow card shown late in the first half, this time to Andrea Conti who will now miss the semis if Italy hold on to reach that stage. It is the Azzurrini who have a slender lead at the break thanks to Bernardeschi's strike, but Germany will also progress through as the best-placed runners-up.
Italy looked the more lively in the opening stages in Krakow but it is Germany who should have taken the lead, finding the back of the net through a powerful Marc-Oliver Kempf header, which was wrongly ruled out for offside. Marco Benassi glanced Andrea Conti's right-sided cross on goal 15 minutes in for Italy's first on-target attempt, before Lorenzo Pellegrini tested Julian Pollersbeck from slightly further back.
Italy were beginning to up the pressure as the first half wore on, coming close through a Federico Bernardeschi free kick and then getting their reward right on the half-hour mark. It was Bernardeschi who bagged it, picking his spot past Pollersbeck after profiting on some slack play from the Germans as they tried - and failed - to pass the ball out from the back when outnumbered.
Things boiled over in the aftermath of the goal, leading to yellow cards being shown to Domenico Berardi and Maximilian Arnold - two of six players to be cautioned in a lively opening 45 minutes. It is Italy who hold the lead at the break, then, meaning that as things stand - with Denmark beating the Czech Republic - both they and Germany will go through.
RESTART! We are back up and running at the Stadion Cracovia. Germany on course for a semi-final meeting with England as things stand, while Italy will face Spain. Things may become a little more complicated over the next 45 minutes.
A flat start to the second half, which will suit Italy at this stage because they have done what they had to. Plenty riding on the result of that Czech Republic game elsewhere, which they still trail 2-1 to Denmark.
Roberto Gagliardini goes to ground in some pain after catching an arm to the face. Certainly no malice in it, despite the protestations from some Italy players. A very stop-start feel to the second half in Krakow so far.
Germany win a free kick which is sent towards the penalty spot. A slight touch takes in behind for a corner kick, which comes to very little. The cynic in me feels that perhaps both teams are playing for this result at the moment!
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 2-2 DENMARK U21s (Tomas Chory, 54)
It all remains very interesting in Group C thanks to an equalising goal for the Czechs against Denmark. Italy remain top thanks to their superior head-to-head record over opponents Germany.
Arguably Germany's best attacking move of the evening, as Gnabry turns on the pace and drives to the byline. After cutting the ball back towards the penalty spot Donnarumma read it well, collecting at the second attempt.
Not seen a great deal from Selke this evening but he finally manages to create some space, sending the ball wide of target from his subsequent effort. A sense that Germany are starting to grow into the game a little more in the past few minutes.
Die Mannschaft the side on top overall in the 15 minutes since the restart, without doing near enough to trouble Donnarumma between the Italy sticks. We are at the point in the match now where both managers will be considering making a change.
SAVE! Lorenzo Pellegrini gets the ball out from his feet and strikes a sweet effort on target, which Julian Pollersbeck is equal to. From the corner Bernardeschi volleyed on target but his shot was blocked aside.
Pollersbeck reads the danger well to collect a left-sided cross. No denying that he has been the busier of the two keepers, with Donnarumma having next to nothing to do so far this evening up against a surprisingly abject Germany side.
A real surprise that Kuntz has yet to make a change. His side have enjoyed the odd positive spell, including over the past couple of minutes, but it rarely comes to anything and they are seemingly running out of ideas.
GERMANY U21s SUB! Right on cue, Max Meyer is the man sacrificed for an under-par Germany side, being replaced by Freiburg midfielder Maxi Philipp for the remaining 22 minutes or so at the Stadion Cracovia.
Will that first change of the match make any telling difference? Fingers crossed it does, because it has been a real disappointing second half so far - zero chances of any note and just the one attempt on target.
GERMANY U21s SUB! A second change made by Kuntz, as he takes off Mahmoud Dahoud and turns to Gideon Jung. A reminder that as things stand, Germany will still progress through as the best-placed runners-up.
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 2-3 DENMARK U21s (Kenneth Zohore)
Cardiff City striker Kenneth Zohore is on fire at the moment, adding to his earlier goal and assist with another strike. Czech Republic's hopes of progressing now surely over for good, with just 25 minutes left to go.
GERMANY U21s SUB! Nadiem Amiri is now on for Mitchell Weiser in Germany's third and final change. All three alterations coming in the space of eight or nine minutes, which has certainly not helped with the flow of things.
CHANCE! England up next for Germany as things stand, which you have to say is a more favourable fixture than Spain - Italy's opponents as things stand. So nearly a second for the Azzurrini, but Conti could not find the target at the back post.
One of those strange scenarios now whereby Germany would, say it quietly, welcome this 1-0 defeat. They will fancy their chances against England next week, while Italy have to tackle a formidable Spain team as their reward for finishing top.
Germany have scored in 25 of their last 26 matches, but they have not warranted a goal this evening. Eight minutes to change the complexion of Group C, though on the basis of the past 82 minutes that does not look likely to happen.
ITALY U21s SUBS! Manuel Locatelli is brought on for Domenico Berardi with six minutes left to play, soon after Petagna was introduced. A disappointing second half in Krakow, with both teams seemingly happy with the scoreline.
Italy simply passing the ball around at the back at the moment, barely being put under any pressure by their opponents. If the referee sees any sense he will blow for full time as soon as 90 minutes strike - there is little chance of another goal.
Two minutes left to play in Krakow, where Germany are now the side in possession. No real attacking impetus being shown, though, as they begin to mentally prepare for that crunch semi-final with England in a few days' time.
UPDATE! CZECH REPUBLIC U21s 2-4 DENMARK U21s (Marcus Ingvartsen)
Denmark will finish third in Group C thanks to a well-earned victory over Czech Republic. Slovakia still have hope of making it through, but they need Italy to score a second against Germany.
FULL TIME: ITALY U21s 1-0 SPAIN U21s
The full-time whistle sounds in Krakow, meaning that both Italy Under-21s and Germany Under-21s remain in the competition. Federico Bernardeschi's 30th-minute strike, following some poor play from Die Mannschaft at the back, proved enough to earn his side a 1-0 win. Italy now face Spain in one of the semi-finals and Germany tackle England in the other.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events at the Stadion Cracovia. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, and be sure to join us on Tuesday for both of those mouth-watering semi-final clashes. See you then!