Antonio Conte ready for the ‘ultimate test’ against Germany
Italy coach Antonio Conte was full of praise for German counterpart Joachim Loew, but believes the Azzurri are ready to avenge a recent friendly thrashing to book their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
Two years on from crashing out of a second successive World Cup at the group stage, Italy are in contention to win their first European championships since 1968.
Yet, standing in their way are the world champions and “the most complete” squad of players Conte has ever seen.
The Chelsea-bound coach admits beating Loew’s men four months after a 4-1 friendly humbling in Munich is the “ultimate test” of the Azzurri’s title-winning credentials.
However, he insists Italy are ready to face their destiny and “play to our strengths” in a bid to cause a second successive upset after shocking holders Spain 2-0 in Paris on Monday.
“I don’t know if the gap between us and Germany has closed, but that friendly taught us a lot of things about them,” Conte said ahead of Saturday’s clash in Bordeaux.
“Since then they’ve gotten better, but so have we.
“They have talent and technique throughout their squad. They’re the world champions and the most complete national team out there in my opinion.
“And for that, I have to offer my compliments to their national team staff and their coach, Loew.
“It’s the ultimate test for us, especially given we were considered also-rans leading up to the tournament.
“We never imagined we would be sitting here, but we’re ready for it. We’ve worked hard on the pitch and just as hard trying to study Germany and their game.”
However, Germany also go into the quarter-final tie with some trepidation as they are facing their bogey team.
Die Mannschaft have never beaten Italy in eight previous encounters in a major competition, the last of which came in the semi-finals four years ago when Mario Balotelli’s double in Warsaw took Italy to the Euro 2012 final.
Italy have injury concerns in midfield with Daniele De Rossi a major doubt after suffering a thigh injury and Antonio Candreva still nursing a hamstring problem.
Conte indicated De Rossi was unlikely to play, adding: “In these games you have to be 120 percent because they are very intense and physical. You can’t play if there’s any doubt. You have to be tip-top.”
Instead, he is counting on the collective strengths that produced a stylish 2-0 win over Belgium, a battling 1-0 victory over Sweden and a comprehensive 2-0 dismantling of defending champions Spain.
Most fans in Italy believe Conte’s unfancied squad have already over-achieved.
But the 46-year-old coach, who will take over at Stamford Bridge later this summer, echoed the thoughts of goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon when he said the Azzurri want more.
“We started these championships with very little credibility from the national and international media, because Italian football has gone through something of a dark period,” added Conte.
“I think we’re showing that with hard work and the right approach you can get over obstacles that, at the start, seem insurmountable.”
Buffon will take his record caps tally to 161 when he lines up against Germany at the Stade de Bordeaux, where he will meet another world class goalkeeper in the shape of Manuel Neuer.
He called on Italy to step up a gear on Saturday: “Until now, we’ve been good. Now we want to go out and do the same, but in a more convincing manner.
“We have to step up our game if we’re to give ourselves the best possible chance of progressing, and keep the dream alive.”