Italy’s Conte seeks Spain surprise

Italy boss Antonio Conte has charged his players with the belief they can end Spain’s eight-year reign as European champions in a blockbuster Euro 2016 last 16 clash on Monday.

Spain beat Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final and on penalties in the quarterfinals on way to winning their first major trophy for 44 years in Euro 2008.

However, despite coming into the tournament largely unfancied, Conte has urged his players to upset the odds in Paris.

“Nothing is impossible, otherwise everything would be too easy. It would be a shame to give up every time the odds are against you,” said Conte on the eve of the match.

“You would take the essence away from life, the fact you can work to overturn the odds, (to) beat a superior side. That is what is great about not just football, but life.

“I don’t want to go home, the boys don’t want to go home. We are not the sacrifical lamb. Spain have to show they are better on the pitch.”

Spain come into the clash on the back of their first Euros defeat in 16 matches. Croatia shocked Vicente del Bosque’s men on Tuesday to top Group D and force Spain onto the much harder side of the draw with world champions Germany awaiting the winners in the quarterfinals.

However, Conte says he would have preferred to face an unbeaten and perhaps more complacent Spain.

“I think defeat always gives you a bit more in terms of focus, concentration and anger. I would prefer Spain to have a bit more of a soft centre on the back of a winning run.”

The encounter has been previewed as a clash between Spain’s free-flowing attack and Italy’s solid ‘BBC’ back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Spain striker Alvaro Morata will come up against four former Juventus teammates — just a week after his return to Real Madrid from the Italian champions — in the defensive trio and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The 38-year-old Buffon was a mentor to the young Morata, joint top scorer at the Euros with three goals, during his time in Turin.

Morata was vital to Juventus’ run to the Champions League final in 2015 and Buffon said the striker has the habit of coming good in the biggest games.

“Like all young players when they go through a tough time, they tend to get down in the dumps, feel sorry for themselves. I said to him once he should stop feeling sorry for himself he can once again be a match winner.

“That is the case because he is a young, intelligent man who is willing to listen.

“He has the gift the top stars have that he scores in the most important matches and he is confirming that in this Euros.

“Spain are not just Alvaro Morata, but he is the focal point of the attack and, based on the goals he is scoring, he is their main threat.”

© AFP

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