Club spirit the secret of Azzurri success
Conte has made Italy a force in France
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