Italy captain Patrizia Panico has hailed the Azzurre's improvement since the disappointment of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™, saying "we are now naughtier in a way, we have more personality".
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As Italy captain, the most experienced member of the squad and the unquestioned leader on the pitch, 34-year-old Patrizia Panico knows better than most the influence coach Pietro Ghedin has had on the team as they prepare for Tuesday's UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ Group C opener against England.
Italy bowed out at the group stage in England four years ago with zero points, a disappointing return which prompted the Italian Football Federation to appoint Ghedin in place of Carolina Morace. Since then, Italy's fortunes have improved and Panico is confident of continuing that form in Finland. "Ghedin changed our mentality: I could say we're naughtier in a way, we have more personality," explained the ASD Torres Calcio striker. "We have always taken part in big competitions like this but we've never made that step forward we needed to obtain good results. Now it's the start of a new era in Italy and we hope women's football can attract more people than before."
Panico is representing Italy in a UEFA European Women's Championship final tournament for the fourth time and, after finishing top scorer in Serie A for the ninth time in her career last season, all Italian eyes will be fixed on her at Lahti Stadium. "If you can give something more than your team-mates then you have to do it but I can't do anything without the help of the other players," she said. "Some of us are experienced, others are young, but even the new players have taken part in big tournaments with their clubs or with the Under-19 national team, so they can handle the pressure of big events."
Italy have won four of their five competitive meetings with England, but Panico does not trust the statistics. "I honestly don't know if they have weaknesses," she continued. "We have studied their way of playing and they are strong on the flanks and also very good at playing short passes. Their midfield has improved a lot: once they played the Nordic way, with long passes, but now they play the ball really well. It's hard to find any weaknesses in their team, but we have our qualities as well and can be competitive against anybody. We want to reach the knockout phase at least, but to win the tournament is our highest aim."