Born to an Italian father and a German mother, Riccardo Montolivo may have a better idea than most of how good Italy's UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final opponents will be on Thursday, but the midfielder is confident the Azzurri have what it takes to reach Sunday's final. "Kyiv is our objective and it's well within our compass," he told UEFA.com.
Montolivo made only one appearance in the group stage but played all 120 minutes of Italy's goalless quarter-final, in which Cesare Prandelli's side emerged triumphant after a nerve-racking penalty shoot-out. Had England been more ruthless with their spot kicks the 27-year-old might have been remembered for a penalty miss that cost his side a place in the last four, but fortune favoured the former ACF Fiorenitna midfielder, who had otherwise enjoyed an excellent match, as Italy rallied with the help of Andrea Pirlo's impudent, chipped effort.
"He sent us a reassuring message with his penalty," Montolivo told UEFA.com. "It was a crazy goal, and it certainly put England under pressure as they missed their two subsequent penalties. As for my penalty, it's a shame I put it wide but the most important thing is we got through."
Although the Azzurri were taken the distance on Sunday, the Group C runners-up dominated the quarter-final, another example of their improving form. "I don't think we'll play any differently on Thursday," Montolivo said. "We will keep playing the same way. By playing an expansive game from the start of the tournament until now, we have kept improving and we aim to do the same in the next match.
We're facing a great team, and we will do so playing open football."
Italy's new style is the mark of a coach Montolivo served under for five years at Fiorentina, the club he left for AC Milan recently, and his relationship with his former mentor benefitted his cause when Thiago Motta was sidelined for the England match. "I know Prandelli very well," explained Montolivo. "He has brought a sense of calm and has got us playing football. That has been our prerogative for the last two years and we will continue to play this way. His best quality is that he knows how to coach football – he is like a teacher."
Prandelli has been at pains to convince his players they are good enough to succeed by taking the game to the opposition, and it seems that the penny has now dropped. "We have what it takes to go all the way and we have shown how good we are in our matches to date," said Montolivo. "At this point we have to give it everything we've got, regardless of who we are playing.
We have got Germany next but it could have been anyone; Kyiv is our objective and it is well within our compass."
Montolivo is looking forward to taking on the nation where his mother was born and raised, and the fluent German speaker described the Warsaw encounter as "a special match", although he believes a united Azzurri squad have the momentum to disappoint his maternal relatives. "Italy's strength is our squad," said the ball-playing midfielder, who has 35 caps and one goal to his name.
"Each and every one of the 23 players are giving their all to the cause. We have been playing together for two years now. The squad has stayed essentially the same and so we have the option to rotate players. We can swap one player for another without adversely affecting the way the team plays.
"It will be a crazy semi-final. Germany are a very strong side, who are very gifted and highly rated. They have been playing well and winning for many years now and will be very well prepared for us. But we know we are good enough. We'll definitely try to be more accurate in front of goal, but that goes for the midfielders as well as the strikers. The most important thing is to create chances; then I'm sure the goals will come."
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