Conte plays down Azzurri hopes as Belgium looms
June 07 2016 10:57 PM
Italy’s Daniele De Rossi heads the ball to score against Finland during their match Bentegodi stadium in Verona, Italy, on Monday. (Reuters)

AFP/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 June 13, with further Group E games against Sweden on June 17 in Toulouse and the Republic of Ireland on June 22 in Lille.
But two years after exiting the World Cup at the first round 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.
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 wide man 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 18 minutes into 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.”
De Rossi only made Conte’s 23-man squad following injuries to Claudio Marchisio (Juventus) and Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain).
But Roma’s midfield general seized his chance only eight minutes after his arrival with a glancing header from Candreva’s inswinging cross.
Italy’s first-round exit from the World Cup in 2014, following defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay, prompted the resignation of coach Cesare Prandelli and shone the spotlight on the increasing failings of the four-time World Cup winners.
Among the many complaints cited in the media was the lack of team harmony, arguably brought on by Italy’s comparative isolation at their Mangaratiba base near Rio de Janiero.
In France, Italy will be based in the middle of Montpellier, where they will initially train at the facilities of the town’s French Ligue 1 side.
Conte, who will take charge of 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%.
“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.”

Iceland 4 Liechtenstein 0
Italy 2 Finland 0
Poland 0 Lithuania 0

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