Euro 2016: Antonio Conte plays down Italy expectations

By Mani DjazmiBBC Sport
Italy coach Antonio Conte says his team are 'outsiders' to win Euro 2016.
Euro 2016
Host: France Dates: 10 June to 10 July
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Italy coach Antonio Conte has played down expectations of a successful Euro 2016 for the Azzurri, saying unity will have to compensate for a lack of talent.

The Italians reached the final of the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, losing to Spain.

However, they went out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil at the group stage.

"It isn't a good moment for our football," said Conte, who takes charge of Chelsea after the tournament.

Watch as Conte discusses Italy's role as "outsiders".

Watch as Conte discusses Italy's lack of young talent.

"It's important that the squad has a good spirit. I work a lot at this. If we are able to find this way, it's possible to be an outsider."

So sparse is Italy's young talent, that Conte has picked the fourth-oldest squad of the tournament, with just seven out of the 23 players aged 25 or younger.

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Conte, who is taking charge of his first major tournament as Italy boss, said the loss of Paris St-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti to injury was a particularly big blow for the team.

"He's the best young player in the national team and a player with great international experience with Paris St-Germain," Conte told the BBC's World Football programme in his first interview in English.

"The other young players are very, very good, but without international experience.

"It's very, very difficult to find strong young players. For this reason, we are working hard to become a good squad."

Conte, who won three successive Italian titles with Juventus before taking over the national team in 2014, said that unity includes the Italian fans and has urged them to stand by the Azzurri.

"Stay close to the national team. It's important for the players to feel your trust in them," he said.

"We know this is a moment that is difficult for us, but together we can overcome these difficulties."

No Pirlo, no party?

Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo has 116 Italy caps but is now playing in the United States

Another notable absentee from Conte's squad is 37-year-old midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

The 2006 World Cup-winner moved to New York City FC in July 2015, a decision which is thought to have counted against him in Conte's eyes.

"Andrea Pirlo is a great player," he said. "I had him for three years in Juventus and we won a lot with him. I'm very affectionate to him.

"But I know that in this moment, I have to find the right choice for Italy and not for my heart.

"I'm not happy that Andrea isn't here, but this is life and we must continue."

'Italy's identity important'

After Italy's World Cup exit two years ago, many fans and pundits accused the team of losing its identity.

Conte, though, is hopeful that he has brought that back.

"It's very important to have an identity and when the other countries see our team, I want them to recognise our identity," he said.

"I like to play offensive football and attractive football with great intensity. I like the players to transfer great emotion to our fans.

"I always think of the verb, win. Most people use this verb in a very simple way, but to win is very, very difficult. It's not for all.

"It's a tough road and along this road there are sacrifices and hard work.

"I'm a perfectionist in training, and in life, and I want the best for me and for the people who work with me."

Calm Carlo and intense Antonio

Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti
Antonio Conte (left) captained Juventus under Carlo Ancelotti (right) during the latter's spell in charge between 1999 and 2001

The intensity of Conte's philosophy is in contrast with the serenity of his mentor, Carlo Ancelotti, who will take over at Bayern Munich as Conte moves to Stamford Bridge.

"Carlo was my coach for two seasons in Juventus and a great brother for me," Conte said.

"But we are two different coaches and we live the match in two different ways. I want to play with my players. I want my players to feel me very close. I suffer and I win with them.

"He's told me about his difficulties with the English language, the first time. My English is improving because I'm studying.

"Before, I studied a lot, but now I'm focused with the national team because we're preparing for these Euros in the right way, with intensity."

When asked which of the English words he has learned so far are the most important, Conte gave a further insight into his character and his expectations of his players.

"I like the verb, to fight," he said.

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