U20 World Cup final: Italy fall to late Luciano Rodriguez winner, but future remains bright for Azzurrini starlets

Despite falling short in the Under-20 World Cup final, losing to a late Uruguay strike, the future remains bright for the Azzurrini's standout stars and, by extension, Italy's first team.

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After qualifying for a first-ever Under-20 World Cup final, Italy could not lift the trophy in Argentina. A last-gasp header from Uruguay‘s Luciano Rodriguez broke the hearts of the Azzurrini at the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata on Sunday night.

La Celeste were without several key players after they had fallen injured during the tournament, but it was the return of Rodriguez from a two-game ban that proved crucial in the 86th minute when he converted the only goal of a scrappy game.

Uruguay had kept five clean sheets in six matches and despite an amazing run of goalscoring from midfielder Cesare Casadei – later named the tournament’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner – never really looked like troubling the South Americans and ultimately paid the price for playing too conservatively at times.

After a fourth-place finish at 2019, though, this is a step in the right direction for the Azzurrini. Now they will hope to see some of the obvious talent at their disposal filter through to the senior side and bring glory back, after consecutive failed attempts to reach the senior men’s World Cup after missing out in 2018 and again in 2022.

Italy’s Samuel Giovane dispossesses Uruguay’s Luciano Rodriguez in the Under-20 World Cup final. (@Azzurri)

How did Italy reach the final?

The Azzurrini began the campaign with an impressive 3-2 win over Brazil and ended Group D with a comfortable win over a weak Dominican Republic side, allowing them to reach the knockout stages despite a 2-0 defeat to Nigeria, as they also finished on six points along with Italy and the South American nation.

They settled a tough Round-of-16 tie with England just before the end of normal time through a Cesare Casadei penalty, then comfortably saw off Colombia 3-1 in the quarter-finals and defeated one of the tournament favourites, the Korea Republic, more comprehensively than the 2-1 scoreline suggested to reach the final.

Clinical Cesare Casadei kept quiet

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

Ahead of the competition, Cesare Casadei was just one of several Chelsea youth prospects sent out on loan to gain vital playing time, but after an unremarkable 15-game spell at Reading, who were relegated from England’s second tier, few expected the midfielder to have such an impact this summer.

The former Inter youngster had been the driving force from the Azzurrini midfield and scored several crucial goals to take them to the final and finish as the tournament’s leading scorer, though, and highlight why Chelsea side paid around โ‚ฌ15m for his signature last summer.

However, a determined and organised Uruguay rarely allowed the 20-year-old to break beyond his midfield station and threatened their goal and he will no doubt be disappointed with his inability to have a bigger say on the destination of the trophy.

Is the future bright for the Azzurri?

Italy’s Simone Pafundi in action against Uruguay in the Under-20 World Cup final. (@Azzurri)

Although the likes of Diego Maradona, Robert Prosinecki and Lionel Messi have excelled at previous editions of the tournament, collective success rarely follows. The Napoli legend, though, won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina seven years after taking the Under-20 side to glory in the second edition of the competition.

France lifted the trophy in 2013, but Juventusโ€™ Paul Pogba was the only member of that squad to win the World Cup five years later in Russia, 2015 winners Serbia failed to qualify for successive European Championship and crashed out of the 2022 World Cup, and little of Englandโ€™s recent improvement on the international stage can be traced back to their 2017 success.

Therefore, Italy supporters can still feel positive about the future, after Casadei lit up the competition and will get more opportunities, albeit away from Chelsea, Tommaso Baldanzi has had a breakthrough season with Empoli this term, and captain Samuel Giovane is perfectly placed for Serie A playing time at Atalanta.

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