Cesare Prandelli believes that his Italy side are gathering momentum ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final against a Germany team he insists are not unbeatable. "There is no such thing as an invincible side," he told today's press conference in Krakow.
Prandelli received a standing ovation from the press corps when he arrived at Casa Azzurri on Monday afternoon, journalists responding to Italy's agonising yet ultimately successful penalty shoot-out victory against England in Kyiv. All the same, it was not long before the Azzurri coach was being grilled about his team's failure to find the net in open play.
Italy had 35 shots compared to England's nine, yet despite dominating the match they were taken to spot kicks by Roy Hodgson's defensive-minded outfit. So why did they not win? "Because that's what makes football so fascinating," he replied. "A side that has that many shots on goal will win nine out of ten matches they play."
"There are lots of ways to win," he continued, "but I feel that we are obliged to take this route because football is constantly in a state of evolution and, at the moment, the difference is being made by those sides who have the courage to push their defensive line high and are brave enough to keep taking the game to the opposition for 90 minutes."
The Azzurri, it could be argued, were on the front foot for 120 minutes, and Prandelli commended the displays of players like Mario Balotelli, despite his inability to find the net. "Mario did really well as a target man. He had five or six chances he would have preferred to have converted, but the fact he got into those positions pleased me and meant he was on his game."
Balotelli, according to Prandelli, is one of the many players who are beginning to realise how good they could be. As their momentum builds over the course of the tournament, so they are growing in confidence – a factor that will stand them in good stead against Germany on Thursday.
"This is the first time that these guys have realised they have extraordinary capabilities," he added. "Once you have belief and know what you are doing then you have no fear, and when you are fearless you can play very well.
"We have a side of players who are growing in awareness from game to game and have the desire to measure themselves against the biggest sides in the game, by playing football. The most important factor that came out of the England match was that we showed we had the courage to keep playing the right way."
Before any tactical considerations are made for tackling the Group B winners, Prandelli's primary concern is the fitness of his players, who only have a three-day turnaround before going again. There are doubts over midfielder Daniele De Rossi (sciatica) and right-back Ignazio Abate (muscle), while Italy's other right-back Christian Maggio is suspended. At least centre-back Giorgio Chiellini returned to training today. Then there is the quandary of how to thwart a side that have more than doubled Italy's goal tally this tournament.
"We are quite a bit short because we only have very few days of recovery time. We need to put out a side that's athletically fit, because we will have to fight against Germany. If we play well, though, we have a chance. There is no such thing as an invincible side. Spain and Germany are truly very good, but we just need to stick to our task, and we must be meticulously prepared.
"Germany have that sense of knowing what they need to do. In Mezut Özil, they boast a player who has no defined role but who knows how to build a move from any position on the field. They are also physically strong and have players who have tasted international success at club level, so they are a side with the ingredients to go all the way. But we will study them closely and work on the few weak points they have."
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