Close to tears after scoring Italy's added-time winner against Ukraine to secure his country a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Mario Pugliese has already turned his sights to the final Group B game against Russia, hoping to get the result which will see his side through to the final four of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
There were emotional scenes on the pitch after what the midfielder describes as "the most beautiful moment of my career", as he hit the second of two Italian goals in the last five minutes to put his team a score-draw away from the semi-finals. Ominously for everyone else in the tournament, the Azzurrini No4 believes the 2-1 victory has started momentum which could take Italy all the way, saying: "Personally, I am thinking about the final."
UEFA.com: How were the celebrations after the win against Ukraine?
Mario Pugliese: It was an immense joy, because to score one minute from the end and qualify for the World Cup, and now still be in the hunt to win here, is amazing. We have been working towards this goal for two years so we were all delighted.
UEFA.com: How did it feel to score the winning goal?
Pugliese: As it was my first goal for the national team, it was an immense joy. I was close to tears, it was truly fantastic. I just had a feeling [we would win]. I know we are a team who do not like to lose, and we have come back before. We have been 2-0 behind and won 3-2. We never give up. But there was a point when I felt we were going to win this game.
UEFA.com: So what did you feel when you received the ball in front of goal?
Pugliese: I just instinctively decided to go forward. I did not really feel much pressure. I knew what I had to do, even though I am a central midfielder and my strength is not in front of goal, but I knew what I had to do and it came instinctively. It is the most beautiful moment of my career.
UEFA.com: You have reached the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but now you have other objectives.
Pugliese: Now we have reached the World Cup, I am personally thinking about reaching the final and I think we have the chance to do well.
UEFA.com: It is possible that a 0-0 draw against Russia on Saturday will not be enough to take you through. Does this change your approach to your final group game?
Pugliese: I think we have got to think about winning because going through as winners would mean facing the runners-up from the other group, who would be a great side anyway, but it would certainly be more manageable. Then, psychologically, if we start to think we can draw or maybe just get a goal and sit on it, then you lose your concentration so we have just got to think about winning our next game.
UEFA.com: What impact did your substitutions against Ukraine have, because Gennaro Tutino, Luca Vido and Vittorio Paragini seemed to change the game when they came on?
Pugliese: The coach got his changes right because all three subs changed the game in the end. The players who came on are more attack-minded than those they replaced and, since we were behind, we had nothing to lose. We struggled to begin with. We were a bit stretched because normally we like to keep things tight, but it was a lot easier in the second half, also because they dropped a bit physically. The three who came on made the difference. Credit to everybody, but especially to those who came off the bench.
UEFA.com: Credit also to Ukraine, who forced you onto the back foot in the first half.
Pugliese: It was a struggle to begin with. They were a great team. The coach told us that their first game [a 3-0 loss to Russia] was just a one-off. As the top eight teams in Europe are here, every game has a story of its own.
UEFA.com: How was the atmosphere in the camp before the first game and had it changed before Wednesday's match?
Pugliese: With the Croatia game, I think we were a bit tense, it being our first experience in an international tournament. I personally was tense and I think we all were. [On Wednesday] we were fired up. We were a bit tense, but in a positive sense and, despite having a few problems to begin with, we were able to win.
UEFA.com: And then the atmosphere after the game?
Pugliese: The joy! It is indescribable. It was fantastic. I think we have already got our feet back on the ground. We had a team meeting and the coach reminded us we have not done anything yet.
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