European Under-21 Championships: Netherlands and Italy evenly matched in semi-final

The Netherlands emerged from a difficult Group B at the expense of Germany to reach the knockout rounds of the European Under-21 Championships. They will face a talented Italy side, undefeated in topping Group A, in a tie that is extremely evenly matched.

Bookmakers are pricing both sides virtually identically, which is little surprise with the talent that will be on show at HaMoshava Stadium. Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Marco Verratti will marshal the Italian midfield once more, having been rested for the final Group A game against Norway, and Genoa’s Ciro Immobile should also return to the starting line-up. Lorenzo Insigne is hopeful of recovering from the ankle injury that he suffered against Israel, while Mattia Destro is pushing for a starting berth.

Bram Nuytinck will play no further part for the Netherlands in the tournament having suffered a knee injury that flared up against Spain, and the defender will return to Anderlecht for treatment immediately. However, Kevin Strootman and Feyenoord’s Stefan de Vrij have been back in full training after minor niggles and should feature against the Azzurrini. The imposing Strootman, who has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United this summer, will lock horns with the accomplished Verratti in what will be a decisive battle in the centre of the park.

The Italian, who was impressive for Paris Saint-Germain as they won the French Ligue 1 title, is looking forward to the clash, and feels that his side can improve on their showing so far in the tournament: “I would give Italy 8/10 now, but we can improve and we can reach 9/10 or 10/10.” He also promises the Azzurrini will be offensive in their mindset, stating: “When you meet teams like Holland you can get at them with pace. They always like to press high in defence, so we must try to attack the [spaces behind] as well as possible and try to be very quick with the ball.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Italy coach Devis Mangia, who is looking for his side to win in style. “Playing good football is essential,” he said. “Based on how we started to think since I took over, we’ve always said it’s important to win, but it’s even more important the manner in which you win.” This commitment to good football will be put to the test against the Dutch as Italy are bidding to win a record sixth European Under-21 title.

The Netherlands must improve on their last performance against the Italians if they are to reach the final in Jerusalem, having been soundly beaten 3-0 when the sides met last August. Insigne and Immobile both scored in that fixture, in which Leroy Fer was also a starter. The Dutchman will become the joint record appearance holder for their Under-21s team if he features in Petah Tikva.

For Fer to become the outright record holder in the final, the Netherlands will have to overcome a stern test from Italy in a game that is very evenly matched.

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