"Some doubted we would get through at all," Antonio Conte beamed after Italy qualified, ending a 16-year wait for a second-match win at a major finals in the process.
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Italy went into Friday's Group E meeting with Sweden having not won their second game at a major tournament in 16 years; all too often in the past, the Squadra Azzurra have started finals well only to lose their way. A case in point: the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when they beat England in their opener yet failed to make it through the group stage.
Ensuring that did not happen again in France was a major priority, and by beating Sweden 1-0 in Toulouse, a nagging itch was scratched – with qualification for the knockout phase a substantial bonus. "We should all be very satisfied, because not many people thought we would be in the last 16 after just two games," said coach Antonio Conte. "Some doubted we would get through at all."
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There is one big reason why they succeeded, and the Italy camp are not tiring of repeating it. "It's not idle talk when we say this squad really is incredible," said forward Simone Zaza, who had been champing at the bit for his first slice of UEFA EURO 2016 action and did not disappoint when granted it in the second half.
"I remember the first match when Graziano [Pellè] scored the second goal and the referee wanted to get us substitutes off because we all ran onto the pitch. The strength of this group is the group itself, and for that I am very happy. We are here for this adventure and would like to enjoy it until the end."
Match winner Éder dedicated his 88th-minute strike to the squad after being named man of the match. "We work together, we fight together and those who are not playing at the moment are also happy when we win," the attacker told EURO2016.com. "That's what matters most."
What Conte hopes now is that the good vibes start to extend to their 12th man – the team's fans. "I want to transmit that passion to people who watch us," he said. "I want our supporters to put on a blue shirt and reinforce the wonderful impression we are getting.
"I want everybody to get involved and for them to feel they play a part in what happens." As Italy are showing, enthusiasm can be infectious.