Antonio Conte will lead Italy in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying after the former Juventus coach was appointed as Cesare Prandelli's successor on a two-year contract.
Conte, 45, surprisingly left Juventus last month after a hugely successful three-year spell with the Bianconeri. A Juve midfielder for 13 years during his playing career, Conte was hired as coach in 2011, having guided AS Bari and AC Siena to Serie A promotions in 2008/09 and 2010/11 respectively. Seventh the previous campaign, Juventus immediately won the Scudetto under Conte, ending the campaign undefeated.
The Old Lady confirmed their Serie A dominance in the following two seasons, last term amassing an Italian top-flight record of 102 points. Capped 20 times by Italy, Conte will replace Prandelli, who left his post after the Azzurri's group stage exit at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Born in Lecce, Conte will make his Italy debut in his native Puglia region when his side face the Netherlands in a friendly in Bari on 4 September. Runners-up at UEFA EURO 2012, Italy start their qualifying Group H campaign five days later in Norway.
After failing to negotiate the group stage at the last two FIFA World Cups, Italy had little margin for error and Conte is arguably the safest option. Juventus were in a similar situation when Conte arrived as they had finished seventh in the previous two campaigns. Conte quickly transformed that side into a dominant force – the Azzurri will hope for something similar.
The UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers are just around the corner and considering the strong Juventus presence in the Italy squad, Conte has the advantage of knowing many of the players in his new team. One of them, Andrea Pirlo, hinted he could change his mind about international retirement if the coach was right. Who else than Conte could convince the Italy maestro to go on?
What can he bring?
Conte not only proved to be a great tactician during his time at Juventus, he also confirmed himself as a natural leader and a motivator who can come up with innovative ways to keep his squad focused during training and friendlies. Italy drew against Haiti and Luxembourg in recent non-competitive outings. Now, I am not saying that will not happen with Conte at the helm, but I expect the Coverciano walls to shake for days if it does.
His biggest challenge
Mario Balotelli has had many ups and downs during his Italy career, but the striker is still the national side's biggest hope. Conte managed to obtain the best from most of his players during his club days. Will he manage to do the same with the mercurial striker?
A point to prove
As a player, Conte had an unhappy relationship with the UEFA European Championship. The injury he suffered during the 1996 UEFA Champions League final against AFC Ajax forced him to miss EURO '96 in England. Four years later Conte started the final tournament well, scoring with a spectacular overhead kick versus Turkey in the group stage. However, another injury against Romania cut his tournament short and the midfielder could only watch as the Azzurri lost to France in the decider. Is UEFA EURO 2016 an opportunity to banish those memories?
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