Azzurrini: Who were the stars of Italy’s Under-20 World Cup campaign?

Italy almost went all the way at the U20 World Cup but Uruguay proved too tough an opponent. Which players have stood out the most for the Azzurrini on the way to the final?

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The weekend of June 10/11 was a very big one in the world of Italian football. There was the Serie A relegation playoff between Spezia and Verona, the Serie B playoff final second leg between Cagliari and Bari, and also the U20 World Cup final which saw Italy take on Uruguay in Argentina.

Italy booked their place in the final with a 2-1 win over an impressive Korea Republic side thanks to goals from the excellent duo of Cesare Casadei and Simone Pafundi, but unfortunately they were beaten late on by Uruguay in the final after not showing the best version of themselves.

It is a tremendous achievement for the Azzurrini to have reached the final in a tournament that contains so many talented teams and individual players, but which youngsters in the team seem the closest to making a huge splash in the senior game?

Who are Italy’s U20 World Cup stars?

Cesare Casadei

Cesare Casadei celebrates scoring for Italy at the Under-20 World Cup. (@Azzurri)

Certainly, the most notable name in the Italy U20 squad for the wider football audience is Cesare Casadei. He is an attacking midfielder who has confused many fans over the past year.

Graduating from Inter’s academy as a clearly very talented player, there didn’t seem to be a place for him in the Inter first team under Simone Inzaghi and the Nerazzurri were keen to make money from players who they did not need to replace with signings. That is why they were only too happy to accept a €15 million bid for a player with no senior experience.

Given the ridiculous number of attacking players in the Chelsea first team, Casadei went straight into the U21s and took the time away from the spotlight to get settled in London as a 19-year-old.

He played nine Premier League 2 games, getting four goals and an assist, whilst also grabbing a goal in the EFL Trophy. In January, Chelsea decided he needed a senior environment and he was sent to Reading in the Championship. He played 15 times and scored once, but Reading is not an easy place to impress. They were deducted six points, the team was lacking quality, and they were relegated.

The U20 World Cup was his chance to regain confidence and show Chelsea why he could be in the first team, or get a Premier League loan move. He started superbly, scoring twice in a 3-2 win over Brazil. He grabbed another two in the final group game against the Dominican Republic.

Next up was England in the Round of 16, a game that Italy won 2-1 with Casadei scoring the winning penalty with three minutes left to play. Confidence is flowing for Casadei and he grabbed the opener in the quarter-final win over Colombia, and the first goal in the win over South Korea that took Italy to the final. He stands tall against many of his opponents and really looks like a senior player.

As OptaPaolo points out, in the last six editions of the U20 World Cup, the only person to score more than Casadei’s seven goals is Erling Haaland in 2019. He’s also beaten a record held by Paolo Rossi for 41 years and shared with Toto Schillaci for 33 years, which is scoring more than six goals as an Italian at an 11-a-side FIFA tournament.

Tommaso Baldanzi

Tommaso Baldanzi celebrates scoring for Italy at the Under-20 World Cup. (@Azzurri)

Certainly the most senior player in the squad when it comes to top-flight experience, Tommaso Baldanzi has been a source of excitement in Serie A for Empoli. The Tuscan club produce and develop a lot of talent and he seems to be the latest who is destined for a move to a bigger club.

The attacking midfielder has made 26 Serie A appearances this season and has scored four times. His attacking numbers should improve in time, but it is his positive nature and dribbling ability that make him so dangerous. There is rumoured to be lots of interest in him from AC Milan, which may intensify if Brahim Diaz heads back to Real Madrid.

Along with Casadei, he has been a major source of creativity in Argentina over the past few weeks, scoring twice and also setting up another two goals. Italy’s no.10 scored the opener against England after making a superb run into the box and poking past Matthew Aidan Cox. He was particularly impressive against Colombia, scoring after a Casadei knockdown and then assisting Francesco Esposito superbly.

Simone Pafundi

Simone Pafundi celebrates scoring for Italy at the Under-20 World Cup. (@Azzurri)

Simone Pafundi has actually underwhelmed slightly at this tournament and has been overshadowed primarily by Casadei. He is worth watching very closely though because Italy senior coach Roberto Mancini seems to rate him.

It is worth pointing out that Casadei and Baldanzi are three years older than Pafundi, but the Udinese man has come off the bench eight times in Serie A this season, whilst also performing well for the Primavera side. He was called up by Mancini and given a handful of minutes during the last senior international break.

Having started the three group games, Pafundi was dropped to a substitute role for all of the knockout games so far. Despite this seemingly limited impact, he showed why the senior setup has been interested by scoring the crucial winning goal against South Korea. With less than five minutes to play, he stepped up and hit an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner and the finger quickly went to the lips.

He may have wanted to score more goals for the team over the whole tournament, but he can certainly now say that he has played his part.

Other important players in the squad include AS Roma’s Giacomo Faticanti, Inter duo Mattia Zanotti and Alessandro Fontanarosa, and Napoli’s Giuseppe Ambrosino.

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