Though he knows his country's fate may depend on how well he helps nullify "one of the best strikers in the world", Italy defender Ignazio Abate is resolved to resist the stern challenge posed by Wayne Rooney and England in Sunday's UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final.
Abate made his UEFA European Championship bow in Italy's final group match against the Republic of Ireland on Monday and gave a typically combative display in their first win of the tournament. "I don't think we have been favourites since the start and we are still not now we're in the quarter-final," the full-back told UEFA.com. "We have overcome the tricky obstacle of the group stage and now we feel that with the heart we have shown we can become something of a depth charge in this tournament."
Abate is clearly happy for Italy to maintain a low profile ahead of their trip to Kyiv. However, having faced Premier League opposition on UEFA Champions League duty, the AC Milan man knows Roy Hodgson's side will pose a formidable challenge. "England play a lot on the flanks, are quick on the counterattack and get to the other end of the pitch with relative ease," he said. "They deliver a lot of crosses and have Wayne Rooney, a striker who is a great header of the ball. He is a complete player, one of the best in the world. It's an incredibly tough challenge, but it will be hard for them too."
Abate is not yet sure about whether he will keep his place in the side as injury to Giorgio Chiellini may convince Cesare Prandelli to revert to a 3-5-1 formation that has tended to favour Christian Maggio's selection in the right wing-back role. "This side consists of many great players and our ability to switch formations during the course of a match has never been a problem," said Abate. "In fact, it's another sting to our bow."
The Azzurri certainly appear to have embraced Prandelli's free-flowing footballing philosophy and Abate is no different, lauding the former ACF Fiorentina coach for his refreshing egalitarian methods. "The coach has a great relationship with all of us and he is always there to talk to," he said. "He is a real tracksuit manager, a good teacher and a good talker: the whole squad enjoys working with him and results have reflected that."
With over 20 million viewers tuning in to watch their compatriots beat the Irish on Monday, Italy are also gaining favour back home. The importance of this great stage is not lost on Abate, who added: "It's an incredible feeling, you get shivers when you're preparing to walk out of the tunnel and when you listen to the national anthems, as you never know when your next chance will come.
"We are trying to transmit this passion of ours to the whole nation. We are a group of simple guys who are working together to realise the same dream of winning something important. With hard work and heart we will try our best to keep the whole nation dreaming."
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