Club spirit the se­cret of Az­zurri suc­cess

Conte has made Italy a force in France

7 Days in Dubai - - EURO 2016 - By Adrian Back @AidyBack adrian@7days.ae

It may have taken un­til the last-16 but we fi­nally had two per­for­mances wor­thy of the big stage. Ger­many were at their clin­i­cal best against Slo­vakia, while Italy pro­duced an en­er­getic and en­ter­tain­ing dis­play to dump out two-time reign­ing cham­pi­ons Spain.

Now the two sides will meet on Satur­day night (kick-off 11pm UAE time) in Bordeaux and one of the best teams in France will be sent pack­ing.

Be­fore the tour­na­ment be­gan many would have pre­dicted a com­fort­able vic­tory for Ger­many against an age­ing Ital­ian side that ap­peared lack­ing in qual­ity.

Many wrote off the Az­zurri be­fore the tour­na­ment be­gan but as Gian­luigi Buf­fon told us be­fore the Spain game: “The lack of pres­sure helped us pre­pare, but the play­ers al­ways be­lieved we could achieve some­thing spe­cial, and we still do.”

The Ital­ians also have his­tory on their side. On eight oc­ca­sions the teams have met in com­pet­i­tive games and the Mannschaft are yet to win. The Az­zurri are rightly re­garded as a bo­gey side. Some­thing Ger­many boss Joachim Loew is well aware of. “We have never beaten them in a tour­na­ment but we have no Italy trauma,” he said. “I do not rate the past too much. “We don’t fear them. We know what we can do and if we do it then we have a good chance to win it.” How­ever, it will in­evitably be on the minds of the Ger­man play­ers. Not just the his­tory but also the fact that Italy are play­ing with con­vic­tion. The squad may be lack­ing star qual­ity - mainly in at­tack­ing po­si­tions - but coach Antonio Conte has cre­ated a unity that makes his play­ers be­lieve that any­thing is pos­si­ble. “This na­tional side is short on great ta­lent, so we have to come to­gether as a team,” said Ju­ven­tus cen­tral de­fender Leonardo Bonucci. “We have to have a play­ing style, and Conte is really the master in this area.” The for­mer Juve boss is known for his fe­ro­cious hard work on the train­ing field and his tac­ti­cal nous. Conte, who will join Chelsea af­ter Euro 2016, has built a well-drilled side where ev­ery player knows their job in the team. In essence the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “I have al­ways said since I took over the Ital­ian na­tional side that the only route for­ward that we can have to try to achieve some sem­blance of suc­cess is to try to be a club,” said Conte. “We can­not al­low our­selves to sim­ply be a group of play­ers.

“There’s no point in hid­ing the fact that it’s not the rosiest pe­riod for Italy in terms of foot­balling ta­lent and so we need to be a team. I have tried to wage a bat­tle over the last two years to make peo­ple re­alise this.”

Conte ap­pears to be win­ning the bat­tle. The en­tire Ital­ian squad trust in their leader and will in­evitably feel con­fi­dent head­ing into their crunch clash against Ger­many.

There is an unerring be­lief amongst the play­ers, even if Ger­many ap­pear to be hit­ting top form at the right time.

Buf­fon also told us that the Ital­ians to de­liver the per­fect gift to Conte be­fore he takes over at Stam­ford Bridge.

“Af­ter France he is leav­ing the Italy job, so there is an ex­tra in­cen­tive from the play­ers to make sure that we give him the best send-off,” said Buf­fon.

Vic­tory over Ger­many would go a long way to de­liv­er­ing that per­fect de­par­ture for Conte. It would also send a shiver of fear through the rest of the teams at Euro 2016.

TO­GETHER: Italy boss Antonio Conte has in­stilled be­lief and team spirit in his Ital­ian team. Inset, Gian­luigi Buf­fon has been key to Italy’s suc­cess so far in France

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