England Under-19s’ Euro dreams were brought to an end in Mannheim as a set-piece double from Italy defender Federico Dimarco condemned the Young Lions to a 2-1 defeat.
Aidy Boothroyd’s team, many of who had tasted Euro glory as U17s two years ago, suffered their first defeat of the competition at the worst possible time after cruising through their group stage by beating France, Netherlands and Croatia.
But despite enjoying the better of the possession against the Azzurri, the Young Lions just couldn’t find their way past an organised and efficient team until Alberto Picchi’s late own goal gave them some hope of salvaging a draw.
England 1-2 Italy
UEFA European U19 Championship
Thursday 21 July 2016
Carl-Benz Stadium, Mannheim, Germany
Live on Eurosport
Instead it was Inter Milan left-back Dimarco who made the difference at the other end with a first-half penalty and a free-kick after the break to take his tournament tally to four goals and seal their first U19 final since 2008.
It was a bright start from the Young Lions though, no surprise considering the attacking line-up named by Boothroyd, but it took until the 18th minute before they found a real sight of goal as Jonjoe Kenny forayed forward from right-back before picking out Izzy Brown in space.
The Chelsea man lined up a shot, but his left-footer was well blocked by Davide Vitturini in the area, with ambitious claims for a handball turned down.
But it was Italy who opened the scoring in the 27th minute as Fikayo Tomori’s heavy first touch and mis-timed clearance in the box led to him tripping Andrea Favilla at the expense of a penalty, which Dimarco dispatched with confidence to give the Azzurri a half-time lead.
England emerged for the second half knowing they needed a big 45 minutes to keep their Euro dreams alive, but it was Italy who could have doubled their advantage when Paolo Ghiglione’s superb low centre narrowly evaded Favilli and Giuseppe Panico in the area before drifting to safety.
There was an even better opportunity for the Young Lions in the 54th minute, when Ainsley Maitland-Niles picked out Kenny on the right and his driven cross-shot was diverted over by Tammy Abraham from close range.
And England were made to pay for that miss too, as within five minutes Italy had doubled their advantage as Dimarco stroked a free-kick over the wall and past the despairing Freddie Woodman into the top corner.
Boothroyd’s side looked to rally and were almost gifted a way back into the game when substitute Sheyi Ojo’s corner was sliced by Nicola Barella across his own goal and narrowly wide of the far post, but it just wasn’t proving to be England’s day.
Further attempts from Ojo and Brown followed and were dealt with by keeper Alex Meret, before Italy thought they’d added a third when Favilli slotted home only for a debatable offside flag to rule it out.
With time running out, England created another good chance as Josh Onomah broke forward before picking out Brown to his left but his first-time shot sailed high and wide as hope began to fade.
But England finally found a way back into the game to set up a grandstand final five minutes, when Ojo’s corner from the left was headed clear by skipper Filippo Romagna only to hit team-mate Alberto Picchi on the shoulder and divert past Meret.
That resulted in some strong pressure from England in the latter stages, but with an increasing number of blue shirts joining the Azzurri’s defensive ranks, it was too little too late as Italy held on to seal their place in the final.
England Under-19s: 1 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United); 2 Jonjoe Kenny (Everton), 16 Reece Oxford (West Ham United), 15 Fikayi Tomori (Chelsea), 12 Kyle Walker-Peters (Tottenham Hotspur); 8 Josh Onomah (Tottenham Hotspur), 4 Jordan Rossiter (Glasgow Rangers) (c); 18 Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal); 9 Dominic Solanke (Chelsea), 7 Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), 11 Izzy Brown (Chelsea).
Substitutes: 10 Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool) for Abraham 58
Substitutes not used: 5 Taylor Moore (RC Lens), 6 Dael Fry (Middlesbrough), 13 Sam Howes (West Ham United), 14 Ryan Ledson (Everton), 17 Ademola Lookman (Charlton Athletic), 19 Tafari Moore (Arsenal)
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd
Goals: Alberto Piccchi (OG) 85
Cautions: Reece Oxford 60, Izzy Brown 90
Italy: 1 Alex Meret; 2 Davide Vitturini, 5 Filippo Romagna (c), 15 Mauro Coppolaro, 3 Federico Dimarco; 8 Alberto Picchi, 4 Nicola Barella, 6 Manuel Locatelli, 18 Paolo Ghiglione; 9 Andrea Favilli, 17 Giuseppe Panico
Substitutes: 13 Giuseppe Pezzella for Dimarco 75, 16 Patrick Cutrone for Favilli 80
Substitutes not used: 22 Andrea Zaccagno, 7 Simone Edera, 10 Simone Minelli, 11 Francesco Cassata, 14 Simone Pontisso
Head coach: Paolo Vanoli
Goals: Federico Dimarco 27 (p), 60
Cautions: Patrick Cutrone 90