Scotland U21 1 - 4 Italy U21: Italian class tells as Scots youngsters get a lesson

Islam Feruz, who came on as a substitute, tests himself against Italy under-21s
Islam Feruz, who came on as a substitute, tests himself against Italy under-21s
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On the back of impressive recent European Championship qualifiers against the Netherlands, this challenge match afforded Billy Stark the opportunity to keep things ticking over while also road testing a few youngsters.

Scorers: Scotland U21 - Mackay-Steven (32); Italy U21 - Florenzi (7), Immobile (55), Insigne (75), Longo (89)

Scotland's Johnny Russell in action. Picture: Greg Macvean

Scotland's Johnny Russell in action. Picture: Greg Macvean

Referee: Michael Oliver (Eng)

Attendance: 7,541

Stalwarts such as Jordan Rhodes and Leigh Griffiths were given a rest, the international boss accepting that, for the time being, club matters take precedence. That opened the door to others, including Islam Feruz. The youngster has already secured his fair share of headlines and last night he again enjoyed a spell in the spotlight. His 61st minute introduction made him the youngest player ever to represent Scotland at this level and while there was no dream goal or winning result to cherish, it did signal another landmark in a promising career.

The potential undoubtedly there but, as he moves up another level, he has the platform to prove whether the hoopla is justified or merely hype. Those at Chelsea and the SFA coaching hierarchy believe he is a star in the making. The London club snatched him away from Celtic, where his early endeavours had gained him recognition. The Somalia-born striker became a naturalised Scot, first pulling on the dark blue in 2009, and his appearance in the under-21 side last night was the result of accelerated promotion through the ranks. One of ten substitutes deployed by Stark in a match that began with the home side being pegged back and going a goal down in the eighth minute, saw them come back into things as the game evolved and eventually got bogged down in a stop-start succession of replacements.

The visitors emerged from the personnel merry-go-round with greater credit. They had the better strength in depth and, thanks to the quality of their movement and passing as well as their clinical conversion of any opportunity Scotland gifted them, they added three second-half goals to ensure a comfortable win.

The Scotland cause was not aided by the enforced departure of goalkeeper Grant Adam just minutes into the second half. The Rangers keeper had replaced Ridgers at the interval but came off worst when he dived down at the feet of Marco Crimi and got a kick in the face which saw him carried off and replaced by debutant Matthew Edwards.

But, for all the new kids and seemingly endless stream of subs, it was the established squad members who showed up best. Young Player of the Year nominee Gary Mackay-Steven scored the goal which got Scotland back on level terms after an inauspicious opening period.

Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers performed admirably, reading the game well to come off his line and producing a string of saves which kept the Italians at bay for the remainder of the first half.

He had been unable to stop the Italians taking the lead after just eight minutes, having been granted a free-kick thanks to a dodgy handball decision, Alessandro Florenzi was initially denied but, when the ball was crossed back in by Nicola Sansone, he was more deadly with his second effort, sending it beyond the young Hearts keeper.

It was a blow for the young Scots who went into the game buoyed by those recent performances against the Dutch and looking forward to another good performance to give them a boost ahead of the next qualifier, against Bulgaria, next month.

But the Italians are about as good as it gets at this level and, even with a striker called Immobile up front, they were anything but. Ciro Immobile was a constant nuisance and forced several stops from Ridgers before Mackay-Steven sent in a shot in the 29th minute which came back off the woodwork. It was enough, though, to encourage his team-mates, while reminding the Italians they weren’t going to have it all their own way.

He then bettered that three minutes later, nabbing his first goal for his country to top off what has undoubtedly been his breakthrough season.

Linking up with his Dundee United team-mate Johnny Russell, he timed his run to latch onto his cross and send an easy side-foot effort into the net.

At that stage it was no more than the Scots deserved. They had earned a decent foothold in the game and went in at half-time with honours even. The point of the match was then rammed home. The objective was not the result but giving new players a taste of what is needed to make it at this elevated level. The Italians made sure it was a tough lesson. With Edwards on for Adam, Immobile got the goal his efforts deserved. That was in the 55th minute and it signalled no way back for the Scots. Matched in terms of effort and outplayed by a high quality Italian outfit, the Scots gave away too many loose balls, and made too many naive decisions at the back.

The third goal came with 15 minutes remaining, a free-kick from Lorenzo Insigne, and things were wrapped up in the 90th minute, this time substitute Samuele Longo netting.

Scotland U21: Ridgers (Adam 46, Edwards 52), Jack (Toshney 80), Wilson, Perry, Hanlon (Shinnie 80), Wotherspoon (Palmer 77), Kelly (McGeouch 46), Allan (McLean 61), Mackay-Steven (Armstrong 76), MacDonald (Feruz 61), Russell (McCabe 46).

Italy U21: Colombi (Pinsoglio 56), Donati (De Sciglio 77), Capuano, Rossi (Crimi 46), Caldirola (Antei 46), Crescenzi, Sansone (De Luca 77), Florenzi (Viviani 77), Verratti, Insigne (Forestieri 83), Immobile (Longo 83).