Conte & Italy wary in view of Belgian threat

Daniele de Rossi (in blue) heading in Italy's second goal against Finland in a friendly match which ended 2-0. The Azzurri have also defeated Scotland in their preparation for the European Championship.
Daniele de Rossi (in blue) heading in Italy's second goal against Finland in a friendly match which ended 2-0. The Azzurri have also defeated Scotland in their preparation for the European Championship.PHOTO: REUTERS

Coach says Italy still a work in progress and that Belgium are the team to beat in Group E

MONTPELLIER (France) • Coach Antonio Conte has played down Italy's Euro 2016 chances after ending preparations for the tournament with friendly wins against Scotland and Finland.

Italy, trounced 4-0 by Spain in the Euro 2012 final, arrive at their Montpellier base today on the back of a patchy 1-0 win over the Scots in Malta and Monday's 2-0 win over Finland in Verona.

The Azzurri kick off the tournament against Belgium in Lyon on Monday, with further Group E games against Sweden on June 17 in Toulouse and Ireland on June 22 in Lille.

But, two years after making a first-round exit at the World Cup for the second successive edition, Conte admitted Italy are still a work in progress.

"We have to keep our feet on the ground," he said. "We've won two friendlies, but with Belgium on the horizon, we now have to get to work on our tactical play."

Juventus striker Simone Zaza started up front alongside Ciro Immobile before being replaced by Southampton's Graziano Pelle in the second half at Verona's Bentegodi stadium.

BIGGER TASK AHEAD

We have to keep our feet on the ground. We've won two friendlies, but with Belgium on the horizon, we now have to get to work on our tactical play.

ANTONIO CONTE, Italy coach, on how his team will prepare for the clash with Belgium.

He believes Italy's recent wins have restored faith and confidence, but admitted Belgium - ranked second in the world behind Argentina - will be a tough nut to crack.

"We're feeling pretty confident after these two friendlies. We played well (against Finland), but we know we can do better," he said. "We have to believe that we can challenge Belgium, but we know they're a great side."

After a messy win over the Scots, Italy - using Conte's preferred 3-5-2 formation - produced a far more convincing display against Finland in Verona, where Lazio's Antonio Candreva gave the Azzurri a 27th-minute lead from the penalty spot.

Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi started on the bench and when he replaced Thiago Motta in the second half, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was whistled off the park by unhappy fans.

"Some players are a little bit behind in terms of condition," said Conte.

"Thiago Motta played 60 minutes but he still has room for improvement."

Conte, who will take charge of English Premier League giants Chelsea following this summer's showpiece in France, says team harmony will be a plus although he expects nothing less than 100 per cent.

"I have a great group of guys under me, they're all good men and excellent players. That's important because in these tournaments, they all have to get along with one another," he said.

"We will now get down to working hard in training... the lads know I will expect them to give me everything they have."

Before Euro 2016 begins in France, Conte would also want Chelsea to sign Spain striker Alvaro Morata.

Morata is a long-standing target for Conte after initially being lined up to join him at Juventus in the summer of 2014, only for the manager to take up the reins of Italy's national team.

The forward subsequently moved to the Turin club from Real Madrid regardless, on a five-year contract, and Conte has asked his new employers to secure the 23-year-old's services.

The deal is complicated by the fact that Real intend to activate a £23 million (S$45.4 million) buy-back clause in the player's contract, albeit only with a view to selling him on immediately at a profit.

The European champions would seek nearer to £40 million for him.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Conte & Italy wary in view of Belgian threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe