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We at OOTB have introduced a new special feature for the U21 European Championship. Many of the players from these tournaments go onto bigger and better things in the future. With the plethora of young talent on show, we will try to compile lists of the best players from each game, to help you keep a better track of the stars of tomorrow. These reports will be detailed Tactical Player Reports to give you a better sense of how these players perform on a football pitch. For more detailed Scout Reports on the best young footballers, click here.
After overcoming England in the opening game and dispatching hosts Israel in their second, Italy went into their final game against Norway having already qualified for the semifinal stage. That being said the Italians had their eyes on top spot in the group. The Norwegians also were in an almost similar position. With a draw against Israel and an impressive win against England, Norway had 4 points in the kitty. Norway were all but through as well with only a loss and a corresponding Israel win accompanied by a 6 goal turnaround enough to take the hosts through in expense of the Norwegians.
As expected, both sides made a raft of changes. With yellow cards and a possible suspension hanging over key players both teams rested their fair share of players. In a match where Italians dominated possession, Norway held their own but Italy had the majority of chances with Destro in particular being wasteful in front of goal. The match was petering out into a goalless draw, but it turned out to be the calm before the storm. Norway won a late penalty and Strandberg stepped up to the plate with a well taken penalty. Norway were within touching distance of top spot in the group before Bertolacci equalized with a well improvised finish in the dying moments of the game.
From a Norwegian point of view, the likes of Nielsen and Henriksen impressed but it was striker Joshua King who features in this installment.
The Oslo born striker was given the responsibility of leading the line for Norway. King boasts 6 senior caps and 1 goal to his name already, a decent haul at the age of 21. Playing as the lone striker upfront was always going to be a tough ask against the technically gifted Italians and that proved the case as Norway defended deep more often than not which lead to King being isolated upfront. King started the game brightly and was the main attacking threat for Norway throughout the first half before visibly tiring in the second which lead to his eventual substitution.
Capable of playing both on the flank and out wide, the ex-Manchester United youth player commands a physical presence on the pitch which means he’s a handful for any defender. The fact that he’s adroit at playing both in a wide position as well as a central role was a feature that came to the fore in his performance against Italy. His willingness to make runs down the channels , more notably down the left, provided a valuable outlet for his teammates as they found themselves defending deep. When he does get the ball, King is a neat player with the ability to take on defenders and certainly has a trick or two up his sleeve. In the 1st half he displayed good hold up play and successfully involved his teammates when they supported him in attack. A lovely backheel in the 19′ minute almost played his teammate through on goal. King though visibly tired in the second half, struggled to get into the game and was caught offside on a couple of occasions when he was looking across the line. The lone striker role may not be the best one for him given his tendency to roam onto the left wing. With Norway through to the semifinals, given a chance, King will be hoping to fire the underdogs to glory.
The Inter Milan youth product isn’t the most talented player around, but he has certainly made up for it with sheer dedication and hard work. Over the course of the 3 group stage games, he has served as an efficient, calm, and able captain of the side.
This Italian side, much like many of its predecessors, likes to play out from the back. In order to do so effectively, it is vital that at least one defender be comfortable on the ball. Caldirola is all this and more. He has a sweet first touch and plays exquisite passes along the floor to his midfielders. He doesn’t like to hold on to it for long either, and looks to keep play ticking over. In this match against the Norwegians, he completed an excellent 84 passes at a very decent success rate of 86%.
Despite the fact that his technique on the ball is good, Caldirola seems to lack the intelligence and the creativity of a natural ball player. He often plays very short and safe passes, rather than adventurous forward looking ones. This pragmatic attitude will be praised by many, but sometimes, this inability to spark an attack works to his disadvantage, and leaves the team over-reliant on players like Veratti to do the creative job.
Generally, Caldirola is a very calm and composed character, who doesn’t get harried easily under pressure. He’s always got his head up, and is always thinking. This is the sign of a good player. Even when he’s deep in his own penalty area, he isn’t rushed into clearing the ball, but instead, performs a quick survey of his options and selects one. The constant looking enables him to be more aware of his surroundings. The foolish fouls towards the end of the game are more of an aberration, than a habit.
Caldirola generally tends to be quite conservative in his decision making while defending. On many occasions, he picks positions that many would see the traditional sweeper in. Even when challenging for the ball, he is rarely the first one out pressing, and prefers to maintain his position.
Aerially, he is quite a threat going forward. He is a good header of the ball, and forced a good save from the opposing keeper with a flick on. As an attacker at set pieces, he moves intelligently as well, and he managed to lose his marker on more than one occasion during the Norway game.
The other half of the strong central defensive combination for Italy, Capuano complimented Caldirola very well through the course of the game. While Caldirola was generally slightly more conservative, Capuano chose to be the aggressor.
When one is the aggressive component of a two man central defensive combination, it is one’s duty to come out and challenge for the ball, both aerially, and on the ground. Capuano played his role perfectly, winning a number of duels against the opposition forwards, and generally forcing them to make mistakes. This combination play meant that Norway barely threatened Italy from open play, and relied on set pieces to create opportunities. Over the 90 minutes, he made 8 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 5 effective clearances.
Capuano was also the player providing attacking thrust from deeper areas to the Italian side, which for large parts of the game, struggled to string passes together. In the absence of Marco Veratti, who got a well deserved day off, Capuano did a decent job of filling the play-maker role. His intention to pass out from the back allowed midfielders like Crimi and Rossi to direct play from advanced areas. The defender attempted 6 long passes, of which 4 found their mark. Overall, he managed to make 73 passes, at a satisfactory completion rate of 84%.
The aerial ability of the Pescara man is particularly impressive. His physical size doesn’t hurt his cause at all, but his jumping is also quite good. Such attributes put together make him a force in the air. This is why he is the one making and winning most challenges for the first ball, while someone like Caldirola drifts further back to sweep up behind him.