MX23RW : Sunday, June 20 11:07:00| >> :600:1277062:1277062:
May 31, 2021 at 8pm UK at Estadio Nacional
Portugal U21sPortugal Under-21s
Italy U21sItaly Under-21s
Mota (6', 31'), Ramos (58'), Jota (109'), Conceicao (119')
Conceicao (120')
Pobega (45'), Scamacca (60'), Cutrone (89')
Pobega (57'), Sala (62'), Lovato (85'), Cutrone (114')
Lovato (91')

Preview: Portugal Under-21s vs. Italy Under-21s - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Monday's European Under-21 Championship clash between Portugal Under-21s and Italy Under-21s, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Two talented squads meet in the knockout stage of the European Under-21 Championship on Monday, when Portugal Under-21s clash with Italy Under-21s in Ljubljana.

Competing to be crowned the best youngsters in Europe, the victors will face Spain or Croatia in the semi-final; with the final set for next Sunday in the Slovenian capital.

Match preview

Portugal Under-21s forward Dany Mota celebrates scoring against England Under-21s on March 28, 2021© Reuters

Having eased through the group stage with maximum points and no goals conceded, Portugal are now seeking to reach their first Under-21 Euros semi-final in six years.

The Esperancas will certainly be hopeful of emulating their senior colleagues' 2016 achievement in lifting the ultimate continental prize, after impressive Group D wins over Croatia, England and Switzerland ahead of this summer's finals.

In charge since 2010, coach Rui Jorge had previously steered his side to second place in qualifying, as Portugal finished level with the Netherlands on points. Continuity has, then, been a major factor in the Iberians' recent success, as the 48-year-old former Belenenses boss is the longest serving coach left in the competition.

Jorge's side won nine of their 10 qualifiers - including the last seven - finishing with a 2-1 home victory against the Dutch, to leave them with the best record of all nine group runners-up; drawing plaudits for their free-flowing football.

As part of an apparently endless conveyor belt of talent - many of whom are destined to move to Europe's top five leagues, if they have not already done so - Portugal's youngsters now want to add some silverware to their individual acclaim.

Despite boasting an impressive record over the past thirty years, they have never before won this trophy, so a team featuring starlets such as Manchester United's Diogo Dalot, Rafael Leao of Milan and Sporting CP striker Tiago Tomas will aim to go one step further than when Jorge's 2015 side lost in the final to Sweden.

During that tournament, the Portuguese drew 0-0 with Monday's quarter-final opponents Italy, who are once again poised to provide a significant barrier between them and progress.

Fiorentina's Patrick Cutrone pictured in February 2020© Reuters

While Italy managed only one win from their first three games, they still emerged as Group B runners-up to qualify for the knockout stages, where each side now starts with a clean slate.

As the Azzurrini previously cruised to first place in qualification Group 1 - picking up 25 points from their ten matches to finish four ahead of Iceland - their hopes of a first tournament triumph since 2004 remain high.

Pedigree is certainly not a problem, as Italian teams have participated in more European Under-21 Championship quarter-finals than any other nation. They have also reached the semi-finals or better in six of their ten most recent appearances (claiming the trophy in 2000 and 2004) and previously were crowned champions for three tournaments running - between 1992 and 1996.

However, Italy's young guns have won only six of their last 14 matches in the final tournament - with the Azzurrini qualifying automatically for the 2019 edition as hosts, but failing to progress beyond the group stage - reflecting a relative dry spell in terms of talent production.

That dearth of development now finally seems to be easing, as young stars Federico Chiesa, Manuel Locatelli and Gianluigi Donnarumma have all progressed to the senior side, while head coach Paolo Nicolato - who replaced Luigi Di Biagio in July 2019 - has a number of current Serie A stars still at his disposal.

Nicolato has previously coached several of Italy's youth teams and will now guide a squad including Milan's Tommaso Pobega - such a success on loan at Spezia this season - and Verona regular Matteo Lovato into a challenging head-to-head with their Portuguese counterparts.

Though he has suffered from a lack of stability at club level, striker Patrick Cutrone has already tasted full international football - having been capped as long ago as 2018. The Wolverhampton Wanderers man (on loan at both Fiorentina and Valencia this term) scored twice against Slovenia last time out and was only denied a hat-trick when his second-half penalty was saved.

Despite being outside contenders for the senior squad's Euros adventure, both Genoa targetman Gianluca Scamacca and diminutive fox-in-the-box Giacomo Raspadori, of Sassuolo, have been included too - joining the Under-21s at last week's training retreat in Tirrenia.

Certainly, then, Nicolato will have some serious firepower at hand, but after receiving red cards in each of their three group stage fixtures, the former Chievo youth coach will be keen for Italy's discipline to improve - with Portugal particularly well-placed to exploit any advantage given.

Portugal Under-21s European Under-21 Championship form:
  • W
  • W
  • W

Portugal Under-21s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Italy Under-21s European Under-21 Championship form:
  • D
  • D
  • W

Italy Under-21s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • D
  • W

Team News

Portugal under-21 manager Rui Jorge on March 31, 2021© Reuters

Rui Jorge's preparations for the finals were disrupted by the news that Barcelona winger Francisco Trincao will miss out due to quarantining after contact with a positive case of COVID-19. The 21-year-old was named in the original Portugal squad but has been left out of the party that travelled to Slovenia.

Sporting's Pedro Goncalves, who has enjoyed a stellar campaign for the new Portuguese champions, has been included in the senior squad, so is another forward that will have to be replaced.

However, Wolves starlet Vitinha is set to start, following a fine conclusion to his first season in England, while Tiago Tomas is favourite to lead the line alongside Goncalo Ramos - with Dany Mota of Serie B club Monza another possible option.

Italy, meanwhile, have favoured a 3-5-2 setup throughout the group stage, so are expected to do so again on Monday. Bordeau defender Raoul Bellanova is therefore likely to start on the right flank for the Azzurrini, with Marco Sala in pole position to patrol the left.

After celebrating promotion through the Serie B playoffs with Venezia, midfielder Youssef Maleh has been drafted into the squad and could feature in the second half, as Tommaso Pobega and Giulio Maggiore - clubmates at Spezia this season - should start.

Up front, coach Paolo Nicolato must choose between Patrick Cutrone, Inter's Andrea Pinamonti, Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca.

Portugal Under-21s possible starting lineup:
Costa; Dalot, Leite, Queiros, Tavares; Braganca, Fernandes, Vitinha; Vieira; Ramos, Mota

Italy Under-21s possible starting lineup:
Carnesecchi; Lovato, Ranieri, Del Prato; Sala, Pobega, Rovella, Frattesi, Bellanova; Raspadori, Scamacca

SM words green background

We say: Portugal Under-21s 2-1 Italy Under-21s

Portugal seem to have produced another golden generation, with talent after talent coming to prominence in the Primeira Liga before being hoovered up by major clubs continent-wide.

Their well-honed and easy-on-the-eye patterns of play can outsmart the Italian defence, though the Azzurrini's strikeforce is potent enough to cause plenty of problems at the other end.

Top tip

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