Daniele De Rossi said Italy were delighted to prove the doubters wrong after putting an indifferent start at UEFA EURO 2008™ behind them to reach the last eight.
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Azzurri coach Roberto Donadoni made a daring tactical switch for the decisive Group C match at the Letzigrund, deploying the energetic AS Roma man in central midfield with Andrea Pirlo moving to a wider position on the right. The rewards were handsome, with Pirlo converting a penalty in the 25th minute before De Rossi sealed the win in the 62nd with a driven free-kick, which deflected in off the foot of Thierry Henry. De Rossi, the Carlsberg Man of the Match, said: "I'm happy that we've qualified, especially because nobody believed in us."
The 24-year-old had been omitted for the opening 3-0 loss to the Netherlands, yet did enough in the subsequent 1-1 draw with Romania to retain his place even when the Italian media were calling for changes. "We came in for a lot of criticism from everybody, some of it was justified and some of it wasn't," said De Rossi. "But this was a splendid performance by all of us – from all the players to the staff. It would have been better to have qualified beforehand rather than having to fight so hard for it, but we're all happy now. We're free for a day and a half to enjoy this before we turn our focus to the quarter-final."
Milan pair suspended
That game will be against Spain in Vienna on Sunday, when Italy will take to the field at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion without Pirlo and his AC Milan team-mate Gennaro Gattuso after both picked up suspensions tonight. Such losses would weaken any team, yet De Rossi sounded confident: "We're a team who have always fought together, and I mean the whole team, so I don't think this will us affect us much. We have a strong squad and substitutes who can be used in this situation."
Roberto Donadoni may not like to comment on individual performances - "all the boys deserve a 10 out of 10," the Italy coach said - but Holger Osieck, representing the UEFA Technical Team who decided on the Man of the Match after noting the outcome of the online vote on euro2008.com, was happy to say of De Rossi's display: "I think he had good control in midfield and he was a stabilising factor. He did a couple of good interceptions and he tried to play some accurate balls. And then, of course, he was the guy who secured the win."