Friday, 5 September 2008

[U21 Qual] Draw leaves Italy on edge

Italy remain in control of their own destiny but know they face a nervous 90 minutes in Croatia on Tuesday after being held by Greece in their final home qualifier in Castel Di Sangro.

Italy 1-1 GreeceA debut goal from Inter striker Mario Balotelli after 34 minutes sent the Azzurrini into the interval a goal to the good, only for Lazaros Hristodoulopoulos to equalise nine minutes after half-time and prevent Italy registering the three points needed to seal Group 1 with a game to play.

Instead, they travel to Varazdin – where Croatia thrashed Albania 4-0 this evening – requiring a point to reach the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-offs.

Much had been said about Balotelli's talent and the 18-year-old almost added to the hype with four minutes gone as he collected Domenico Criscito's cross from the left and shot just outside the near post.

Greece goalkeeper Alexandros Kasmeridis denied both Marco Motta and Daniele Dessena with 24 minutes on the clock but was powerless to keep out Balotelli's clinical volley ten minutes later.

The rest of the half was all about Italy, yet they failed to increase their tally and were on the back foot in the 54th minute when Hristodoulopoulos beat home goalkeeper Andrea Consigli with a powerful drive from distance.

Balotelli went tantalisingly close to scoring with an overhead kick with 12 minutes left, although defence rather than attack may be the focus for Pierluigi Casiraghi's side when the group is played to a finish next week.

Group 1 Fixtures:
Wednesday 20 August
Albania 1-1 Greece
Friday 5 September
Croatia 4-0 Albania
Italy 1-1 Greece
Saturday 6 September
Azerbaijan 2-2 Faroe Islands

Group 1 Standings:
[1] ITA - PLD: 09 - PTS: 23
[2] CRO - PLD: 09 - PTS: 21
[3] GRE - PLD: 09 - PTS: 15
[4] ALB - PLD: 09 - PTS: 11
[5] FAR - PLD: 09 - PTS: 04
[6] AZE - PLD: 09 - PTS: 02

Group 1 Fixtures:
Tuesday 9 September
Croatia v Italy
Greece v Faroe Islands
Wednesday 10 September
Albania v Azerbaijan

Source: UEFA

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