Italy attacking midfielder Sebastian Giovinco said he is ready for the "game of his life" as the five-time champions take on Israel in the first leg of their 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off in Ancona on Saturday.
"Two years of work and sacrifice are at stake," said the diminutive Juventus player. "We will not make the mistake of underestimating Israel because we know they are a good side. In September we were not at our best physically after playing at the Olympics, but now we're in fine form and we cannot make mistakes. We are ready to play the game of our lives. If we play as we know we can, we won't have any problems qualifying."
Giovinco should start behind strikers Robert Acquafresca and Mario Balotelli, although the latter is suffering from flu and could miss out. Italy coach Pierluigi Casiraghi is without defender Fabiano Santacroce and forward Giuseppe Rossi, who have both been drafted into the senior squad by Marcello Lippi for FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Montenegro. "Lippi is keeping his eyes open for young players and this is extra motivation for us," Atalanta BC midfielder Luca Cigarini said. "But at the moment we must only focus on beating Israel and reaching the finals in Sweden."
Israel beat France in the play-offs to reach the final tournament for the first time in 2007 and believe they can pull off another upset after finishing level with Germany in Group 9. "We have the potential to achieve good things," Israel coach Motti Iwanir said. "It's not just down to them [Italy]. If we don't look at them like stars that have fallen out of the sky then I am certain we can win as well."
Iwanir is shorn of key figures such as Ben Sahar, Baram Kayal, Etey Schechter and Maor Bar Buzaglo because of senior call-ups, and his options were reduced further following injury to Beitar Jerusalem FC striker Toto Tamuz and Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC midfielder Avihai Yadin. The coach, though, is undefeated in his two competitive matches since replacing Guy Levy at the U21 helm in March, and is optimistic that his run of success will continue. "I believe in their ability and what they are capable of, and besides, this team was never about one player," he said. "It is a collective and this unity is what got us to where we are now."
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