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International recaps: Italy seniors and youths stroll to qualifying wins

Both the Italy senior side and the U21 side won important European Championship qualifiers yesterday.

Claudio Villa

With the European qualifying campaign officially underway, the "new" Italy side lead by Antonio Conte had their first test under competitive conditions, and... things came off fairly well.

Admittedly they could have faced tougher competition than Norway, but having to travel to Scandinavia is always tough, and the Norwegians are a hard-working side with some intriguing talent. Italy played well, though, showing signs of an actual cohesive plan that hasn't always existed at the national level over the last couple of years.

That whole "having a plan thing" worked out pretty nicely, and fairly quickly. Italy piled on the pressure early and often, and Simone Zaza took advantage, slotting home a chance in the 16th minute to give himself his first international goal and Italy an early lead. Conte's side settled a bit after that, alternating between sitting back and keeping Norway's possession out of dangerous areas and launching forward to make them sweat. A second goal seemed inevitable, but it wouldn't come for some time.

Eventually, Leonardo Bonucci found the net, and Italy were able to coast their way to the finish. The match wasn't without it's low points; both Zaza and Ciro Immobile picked up minor injuries, and Alessandro Florenzi was disappointingly poor. Still, on a whole, the match was a rousing success for an Italy side just coming together to get back on their feet after a gravely disappointing spell.

For those looking to the future, the U-21's also had themselves a nice little day. In their last match of their group qualification for next summer's U-21 European Championship, they found themselves needing a win to advance; both Belgium and Serbia stood a point ahead and with a goal differential advantage, so a draw would not do enough to even get the young Italians to the playoff stage.

As they faced down Cyprus in Castel Di Sangro, they found themselves in a whole heap of trouble, as Pieros Soteriou scored in the 29th minute and Cyrpus seemed to be holding the upper hand in the run of play despite a strong Italian youth side being on the pitch. Then a virtual miracle happened: Filippo Bernardeschi found the back of the net in the 42nd minute, and then just moments before the halftime whistle, Italy were able to force an own goal to take the lead.

That kicked the momentum fully in Italy's favor coming out of the half, and... well, the floodgates were open, and Cyprus could not close them. The Italians scored a whopping five second-half goals and kept the Cyprans pinned back, running out massive winners and taking the group, earning the automatic place in next summer's European U-21 Championship it gives.

It was a heck of a day for Italy on the international stage. The senior side took a big first step in their qualification efforts for Euro 2016, and the U-21's made a a dramatic finish in their now-victorious campaign to reach next season's youth Euro's. If you're fond of international football, yesterday was a damn fine day for it, even if no Napoli players were taking part for Italy.