Tuesday, 23 June 2009

[Euro U21] Azzurrini reach last four

Italy survived a scare, and claimed top spot in UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group A, with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Belarus.

Belarus 1-2 ItalyA shock appeared to be on the cards in Helsingborg when Sergey Kisliak grabbed an opener shortly before the interval, but Robert Acquafresca levelled matters from the spot almost immediately and tapped home a winner 15 minutes from time.

The Azzurrini dominated proceedings for long periods and were good value for all three points and a semi-final tie against Germany on Friday.

Ignazio Albate, filling in for the suspended Mario Balotelli, almost had the Italians in front inside the opening minutes, but saw a crisply struck effort fly narrowly wide.

Only a miraculous, but slightly dubious, piece of defending from Mikhail Afanasiev then prevented Domenico Criscito from heading home a Sebastian Giovinco corner, as he cleared off the line with his shoulder.

Abate then blazed over again before Belarus were forced to hack another goal-bound effort to safety from underneath their own crossbar.

Then, as the game ticked into first half stoppage time, Kisliak stunned the Olympia Stadion as he guided a controlled half-volley past a helpless Andrea Consigli.

It did not take long for Italy to haul themselves level, though, as Afanasiev handled in the box and Acquafresca coolly converted the resulting penalty.

The Inter-owned striker should have had a second moments after the re-start, but he blazed wide when well placed.

Salvatore Bocchetti rattled the bar as Pierluigi Casiraghi's side upped the tempo, before some heroic defending prevented Giovinco from getting his name on the scoresheet.

Italy were not to be denied, though, and Acquafresca was left with the simplest of tasks as he slid into an empty net on 75 minutes following a selfless square pass from Antonio Candreva.

Belarus crash out with just a point to show for their endeavours, while five-time champions Italy will now face a showdown with Germany in the last four in Helsingborg on Friday night.

In Group A's other game, Sweden marched into the semi-finals after a convincing 3-1 victory against a Serbia team reduced to nine men by the dismissals of Nikola Petkovic and new Genoa signing Nenad Tomovic.

The hosts powered into an early lead thanks to two-goal Marcus Berg, and though Gojko Kacar briefly reduced arrears, Ola Toivonen clinched the win after 29 minutes. The two sendings-off, coming either side of half-time, confirmed Serbia's fate.

As a result the Swedes, requiring only a draw to advance, finished second in Group A to book a Gothenburg date with Group B winners England on Friday.

Belarus: Chesnovski, Bordachov, Osipovich, Verkhovtsov, Shitov, Kovel, Sivakov, Kislak (Volodko 82), Afanasiev (Gigevich 64), Komarovskiy (Yurchenko 81), Kryvets.
Italy: Consigli, Motta, Andreolli, Bocchetti, Criscito, Marchisio, Cigarini (Morosini 85), De Ceglie (Dessena 14), Abate (Candreva 61), Acquafresca, Giovinco.

[UEFA Euro U21 Championships 2009]

Source: Sky Sports

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