After reining in his emotions to make his competitive debut at UEFA EURO 2012, forward Alessandro Diamanti is expecting "a fascinating, open match between two great sides" when the Azzurri take on England in Sunday's quarter-final.
Monday night was a special occasion for Diamanti. The Bologna FC forward had been on the fringes of the first team, but was given the chance to make his competitive debut as a substitute in Italy's decisive Group C match against Republic of Ireland.
It was reward for the enthusiastic attitude coach Cesare Prandelli lauded at a recent press conference, describing the 29-year-old's approach to football as "exemplary". "I feel great in this squad," Diamanti told UEFA.com. "I'm pleased the coach has spoken highly of me. I'm just giving my best, which I think is only right, and I just try to transmit my enthusiasm and my positive attitude to my team-mates."
Before Monday, Diamanti's only previous international outings had been two friendly apearances against Romania and Russia, the former resulting in chastisement by Prandelli for having played despite being under the weather. "I remember that I had a temperature of 40C and I wasn't feeling at all well," he reflected. "But after being given the chance to play for Italy, I wanted to repay his faith in me. They say that you play better with a fever, but not when it's as high as that."
Diamanti's emotions certainly soared when he learned he would be coming on as a second-half substitute for Antonio Cassano, but kept his feelings in check to deliver the corner from which Mario Balotelli made it 2-0. "I felt emotional but I tried to channel it in the right way because I was focused on the match. When you train well and get the preparation we do under this coach, you know exactly what you need to do on the pitch. So the emotion fades a little because you are fully focused on what you need to do."
Now Italy need to overcome England in Kyiv on Sunday in order to reach the semi-finals, and as someone who played in the Premier League for West Ham United FC, the man known as 'Alino' is relishing the prospect. "The England game will be a fantastic match," he said. "I think it's a fascinating game between two great nations.
It will be an open encounter and an attractive one. It will certainly be a lot harder than the Ireland match, because though Trapattoni's side are physically very strong, England have players with greater technique and experience.
"They have a lot of great players in their side, starting with [Steven] Gerrard, then [Scott] Parker, [Theo] Walcott and [Wayne] Rooney. I haven't heard from any of my old [West Ham United FC] team-mates since I went to see them a year or two ago. I haven't watched many of their games, apart from the last one, but in the next few days we will do our research. We work very hard and we're hoping to go all the way. We are putting everything into it as we do every match."
A committed, enthusiastic member of the squad, Diamanti has come a long way in the five years since he left his lower-league outfit AC Prato, his home-town club, but having worked his way up from obscurity, he is relishing his day in the sun. "
I always thought that I would one day play for Italy, but I never said so – they would have taken me for a madman."
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