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Buffon credits Conte with leading Italy revival

Having served under Antonio Conte for three trophy-laden years at Juventus, Gianluigi Buffon feels the Italy coach has helped turn the Azzurri into "a team that can beat anybody".

Buffon on Italy’s Bulgaria clash

Unbeaten since they crashed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in the group stage, Italy have been rebuilding confidence during the European Qualifiers – and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon believes coach Antonio Conte deserves much of the credit for steadying the ship.

The Azzurri were left in disarray after losses to Costa Rica and Uruguay ended their Brazil campaign at the first hurdle, and when Cesare Prandelli stepped down as boss it was time to find the right man to oversee a new era. Step forward Conte, who had just led Juventus to a third successive Serie A title, a run of triumphs he shared with Bianconeri No1 Buffon.

"The coach has tried to put his stamp on the team since he arrived, in tactical aspects on the pitch and also in terms of being serious and fully dedicated to work and specifics in training, the gym and so on," explained Buffon, who is in line to earn his 147th cap when Italy resume their UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying bid in Bulgaria on Saturday.

"He thinks – and I think this is the right way as well – that the more you get used to fatigue and overcoming mental hurdles, then the better you're able to respond to difficulties on the pitch. It was like that for three years at Juventus, and I hope for many more years with the national team."

The Conte approach has brought five victories in six matches since the summer, four of those helping Italy stay level with Croatia at the top of Group H, and Buffon feels that genuine competition for places has also raised standards. With Conte preferring to pick in-form players, and open to introducing new faces, the Azzurri squad dynamic has been revitalised.

Gianluigi Buffon has won 146 Italy caps
Gianluigi Buffon has won 146 Italy caps©Getty Images

"The respect the players feel for the coach, and the credibility he has among the players, is based on him treating everyone the same," said Buffon. "The rules apply to everyone and everyone is treated more or less the same way. And when it comes to deciding who plays, we are all put on the same level. That's a very good way to work."

The 37-year-old nonetheless expects a tricky assignment in Sofia, where fourth-placed Bulgaria will be desperate to make up for a sluggish start to qualification. "When you play away matches against teams from that part of the world, you always face difficulties," he said. "You always face tough sides that give 120% because they're playing against Italy – it gives their players a chance to show what they can do.

"It will certainly be a difficult hurdle to overcome. But I think that if we go there with the right frame of mind and the right attitude, which you need for this competition, then we are a team that can beat anybody."