Lorenzo Pellegrini scored a stunning overhead kick as Italy opened their European U21 Championship account with a nervous 2-0 win against Denmark in Krakow.
Andrea Petagna added a second late on for Italy, getting on the end of an exquisite cross from Federico Chiesa.
Luigi Di Biagio’s side made heavy weather of seeing off a stubborn Denmark side and had Gianluigi Donnarumma to thank for keeping out Andrew Hjulsager’s late drive.
Italy’s game against the Czech Republic in Tychy on Wednesday will now be a chance for them to assert their credentials as they join Germany at the top of Group C.
Italy started with Domenico Berardi in attacked and a solid efensive partnership of Daniele Rugani and Caldara.Denmark were skippered by Fulham’s Lasse Christensen.
Italy struggled to impose themselves in a first half which saw Denmark do an effective job of shutting down Di Biagio’s front three of Petagna, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Berardi.
Pellegrini’s finally relieved his side’s frustrations with an expertly taken overhead volley shortly after half-time as Denmark failed to clear a cross from Italy’s left, with the midfielder arching his strike beyond the dive of goalkeeper Jeppe Hojbjerg.
Italy: Donnarumma (7), Barreca (8), Rugani (6), Pellegrini (8), Berardi (7), Bernardeschi (7), Petagna (7), Conti (7), Caldara (6), Benassi (6), Gagliardini (6)Subs: Cerri (6), Grassi (7), Chiesa (8)
Denmark: Hojberg (7), Holst (7), Maxso (6), Banggaard (5), Blabjerg (6), Norgaard (6), Hjulsager (8), Christensen (7), Ingvartsen (7), Andersen (6), Borsting (6)Subs: Deulund (6), Zohore (6), Marcondes (6)Man of the match: Lorenzo Pellegrini
Italy though failed to build on Pellegrini’s inspired strike, allowing Denmark room to ease back into the game with winger Hjulsager threatening with a string of decent deliveries down the right.
Marcus Ingvartsen failed to connect with a wicked Hjulsager cross as Denmark wasted a golden chance, before Italy substitute Chiesa found space down the left and delivered for Petagna to slide in his team’s second.
There was still time for the lively Hjulsager to bring a good save from Donnarumma diving low to his left as Denmark refused to lie down easily.
Italy will likely still need to beat the Czech Republic in their next game to keep their hopes of winning Group C in their own hands, after group rivals Germany overcame the Czechs earlier on Sunday.
Man of the Match – Lorenzo Pellegrini
Scored with a sumptuous volley to break the deadlock on a frustrating night for his side, and was a hive of activity on the right of Italy’s midfield three.
Italy now face the Czechs – beaten 2-0 by Germany on Sunday – in Group C on Wednesday afternoon live on from 4.50pm, while Denmark play Germany live on from 7.40pm, also on Wednesday.