LILLE, France (AP) — Italy coach Antonio Conte has urged his team to be upbeat about facing two-time defending champion Spain in the last 16 of the European Championship.
Though a second-string Italy side lost 1-0 to Ireland in their final Group E match in Lille on Wednesday, Conte’s focus was more on preparing for Monday’s game at Saint-Denis.
“With regards to the draw, it’s definitely odd to win the group and come up against Spain,” Conte said through a translator.
Italy began Euro 2016 with a 2-0 win over Belgium and then beat Sweden 1-0 to secure a first place finish in the group. Spain’s late loss to Croatia dropped Vicente Del Bosque’s team down to the runner-up slot in Group D – lining up the clash Italy.
Not only is Spain the defending champion, it beat Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final.
“Now, we have a match against one of the favorites to win the competition as a whole,” Conte said, before highlighting how Italy had been written off before the tournament by its own media and expected to bow out at the group stage.
“Let’s not forget where we started from,” said the Italian, who will be taking over as Chelsea coach in the English Premier League next season. “The fact that we play a match in the round of 16 against Spain should excite us.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them, but now we’ll work hard to prepare for the game in the best fashion possible.”
However, he also pointed out that the 24-team format and its associated draw means that the winner of their match will play Germany, if the 2014 world champions come through their last 16 game against Slovakia, as expected. The winner of that encounter could then possibly play host France.
“It’s a pretty problematic, tricky road to the final,” Conte said. “However, that’s the way it is, those are the rules.”
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