Italy got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Belgium in Turin to secure third place in the UEFA Nations League.
The European champions were beaten in the semi-finals by an organised and youthful Spain side in midweek, and took part in this fixture with a much changed lineup from that game.
22-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma was named captain, with both sides missing key players from their team in a fixture that Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois labelled ‘pointless’ following their defeat to France in the other semi-final.
But it was the new generation of Italian stars that shone brightest, with Nico Barella opening the scoring with a beautiful volley just after half-time following a half-cleared corner kick.
The other star of the show was Federico Chiesa, as the Juventus winger won a penalty after a great run drew the foul from Timothy Castagne and allowed Domenico Berardi to tuck home from the spot.
Both players are still in their early 20’s and have recently seen a big change in their roles and responsibilities at both club and international level, becoming key players in Serie A.
But while Italy’s squad is full of experienced professionals such as Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne it’s the new blood that have brought the hunger and quality to the side to blend in and make them a real force once again.
Barella and Chiesa represent both the present and future of the national team, with the Inter Milan central midfielder a potential future captain in the making.
He has a bite to his game that means he will never be physically bullied on the pitch, but he also has supreme technical quality on the ball that means he is capable of playing in all types of teams.
In a similar way to Arturo Vidal, Antonio Conte helped to mould Barella into a goal threat too and he now has seven goals in 33 internationals with four of those coming in the last 13 months.
Chiesa on the other hand is the man, along with Paulo Dybala, who has been elevated in the Juventus squad to replace Cristiano Ronaldo and he is becoming a world-renowned name following his performances at Euro 2020 and in Serie A.
His pace, directness, goal threat and creativity mean he will undoubtedly become the face of the national team in the coming years and at only 23-years-old there is plenty of room for improvement too.
It’s a great reaction to their first defeat in over three years and shows that even against top opposition, the squad is strong enough to compete and the young players are ready to step into senior roles.