After a warm welcome in Krakow, coach Cesare Prandelli is eager for his Italy side to repay the fans' enthusiasm at UEFA EURO 2012, saying: "We want to play good football."
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After a rousing send-off from Pisa airport and a warm welcome in Krakow, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is determined for his side to channel that same enthusiasm on to the pitch at UEFA EURO 2012.
Although they experienced disappointment at the FIFA World Cup two years ago, the Azzurri have a long tradition of reaching the latter stages of major tournaments. Even when they have not been at their best the four-time world champions have traditionally worked out how to eke out the right result. At UEFA EURO 2012, however, it seems that the only goal Prandelli has set his side is to rediscover the free-flowing football that got them to Poland in the first place.
"I have no objectives whatsoever," Prandelli told the first press conference to be held at Italy's media centre, Casa Azzurri, following their arrival in Krakow. "I just want to field a side that knows how to play as a team from the first minute to the last, whoever they encounter. We have had highs and lows on the injury front but we want to get back to doing what we do best – we want to be a side that plays good football."
The Azzurri breezed through qualifying playing expansive football, finishing top of their section with two matches to spare and boasting the best defensive record across the board. Since then, however, Prandelli has been deprived of striker Giuseppe Rossi to a cruciate ligament injury and Domenico Criscito, who withdrew from the squad last week, while Andrea Barzagli has sustained a calf injury that may rule him out of the tournament; Prandelli said he would "wait for until the very last minute" before deciding whether or not to replace him with Davide Astori.
Worse still, Italy have succumbed to three friendly defeats in the build-up to this UEFA European Championship, which represents their worst sequence of results in 26 years. Following the 3-0 loss to Russsia, Prandelli is thus considering playing a five-man defence, with midfielder Daniele De Rossi deployed between two centre-backs, for their opening Group C match against Spain.
"De Rossi has already played there for Roma this season so I'm not planning to add another defender to the lineup," he explained. "If anything it will be a case of adding another midfielder to the formation."
Italy were seen off by a large crowd at Pisa airport and a similar throng awaited them upon their arrival at Pope John Paul II international, where 100 schoolchildren were on hand to welcome them, and a beaming crowd favourite Mario Balotelli in particular, to their homeland. Once in Krakow, 13,000 more spectators flocked into the Municipal Stadium to cheer on Italy's first training session.
It is just this sort of fervour that Prandelli wants to see in his players. "Enthusiasm can always be dampened when you go through a difficult spell, but we saw how many people were at Pisa, how many are waiting for us now at the stadium and the hordes who came to support us in Zurich when we lost to Russia. These fans have all given us an extraordinary charge of enthusiasm.
"Qualifying for EURO was our objective but the way we did it made us very happy because nobody expected us to play at such a high level. Since then we have had the odd injury problem and the odd player who didn't quite live up to expectations and it has left us wondering whether or not we can both play in a certain way and be major players at this tournament. To be honest I am really curious to see whether or not we have a side good enough to do something at this tournament." He is not the only one.