The two most decorated Under-21 sides in European Championship history go head-to-head on Saturday night as Italy prepare to face Spain.
Between the pair they share no fewer than ten European Championship crowns since the competition’s inception in 1978, so it’s probably a bit of an understatement to say they’ve produced some decent players down the years.
With that in mind, 90min have created a combined XI using only players to have appeared at the European Under-21 Championship finals for either Spain or Italy. So, sit back and relax as we take you on a trip down memory lane…
Gianluigi Buffon (GK) – Easily one of the best goalkeepers ever to grace the game. The Juventus legend represented Italy at the 1996 European Under-21 Championship finals and conceded just two goals at Gli Azzurrini notched their third title.
Carles Puyol (RB) – It’s impossible to not have this man in our combined XI, though with so many top Italian centre-backs to choose from he’s pushed out to the right-hand side. It’s a role he’s used to having, filled in at right-back on a number of occasions for Barcelona early on in his career.
Franco Baresi (CB) – Speaking of top Italian centre-backs, you’d be hard pushed to find a better one than Franco Baresi. The Milan defender was part of Italy’s squad for the 1980 Under-21 finals and went on to lift the World Cup with the senior side just two years later.
Alessandro Nesta (CB) – The former Lazio and Milan defender led his Under-21 side to glory in the 1996 Euros, and he too would go on to lift the World Cup later in his career as Italy triumphed in Germany in 2006.
Paolo Maldini (LB) – Another supremely talented Italian defender. Paolo Maldini’s international career was full of nearly moments, finishing runner-up with the senior side at Euro 2000 and the 1994 World Cup, and his luck with the Under-21 team was no better as Italy were beaten by Spain in the final of the 1986 edition of the competition.
Thiago Alcantara (CM) – The Liverpool man enjoyed back-to-back successes in the Under-21 Euros having won both the 2011 and 2013 crowns. Having just missed out on the Spanish national side’s golden era, it remains to be seen whether he’ll experience success with the senior team.
Xavi Hernandez (CM) – Speaking of the Spanish golden era. Xavi was an integral part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and then defended their crown four years later. Oh, and there was a World Cup triumph sandwiched between the two tournament wins. Not bad.
Andrea Pirlo (CM) – Just to make our midfield a bit cooler. Current Juventus manager Andrea Pirlo helped Italy triumph at the European Under-21 Championship in 2000, before reaching the pinnacle of international football six years later as Italy won the World Cup.
Isco (RW) – For those of you wondering where the likes of Andres Iniesta and David Villa are, after Spain’s appearance at the Under-21 Euros in 2000 they didn’t make it to the finals for another nine years, meaning many of the county’s golden generation don’t qualify for our XI. Therefore, Real Madrid man Isco gets the nod on the right of our frontline
Raul (ST) – Obviously Raul finished the tournament’s top scorer when he represented Spain at the 1996 Under-21 Euros, however, it wasn’t enough to secure a winner’s medal as they lost out to Italy.
Alessandro Del Piero (LW) – An absolute genius of a footballer. The former Juventus man was part of the triumphant Italy side at the 1994 Euro Under-21 finals, the second of their five titles to date.