Italy have gone under the radar in the lead-up to UEFA EURO 2016 but laid down a marker against Belgium on Monday. And, warns the impressive Leonardo Bonucci, the best is yet to come.
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Italy kept a low profile in the run-up to perhaps the most eagerly anticipated opening group fixture of UEFA EURO 2016, maintaining an impressive poker face. They revealed their winning hand against Belgium in Lyon, though, emerging as 2-0 victors in Group E.
A masterly show of tactical acumen enabled them to avenge a 3-1 friendly defeat by the same opponents last November, and a strong team spirit confirmed that Antonio Conte's Azzurri are united in intent and ambition.
"This is a great opening match which fills us with enthusiasm; it should inspire us and provide us with belief, confidence and positivity," said impressive defender Leonardo Bonucci. "This should be the first win of a great tournament for us.
"We showed some typical Italian qualities: hard work, humility, fitness and a desire to work for one another; plus we were clinical. We deserve this moment, hopefully it is just the first of many here."
Centre-back Bonucci led by example, repelling one of the most feared attacks at these finals with bravura, staying patient and then striking with incision. It was his precise ball from deep that sliced right through the Belgian rearguard and teed up Emanuele Giaccherini for Italy's opener.
"Their midfielders and strikers are among the best in the world," Bonucci said of the Red Devils. "They have plenty of skilful and talented players, and near the end of the match they brought even more of them on. We had to dig in and we did so splendidly. We were simply perfect."
Coach Conte did not go quite so far with his assessment. "It was a good performance but we've got to keep our feet on the ground," he warned. "There's still a long way to go and we need to work with the same intensity.
"We've put ourselves in a good position to go through, but the lads know that we need to work, giving 110%. If we accept being ordinary, it's not enough. We must be extraordinary."
Bonucci concurs. "The best is yet to come," he proclaimed. Given Monday night's evidence, that is a bold statement of Italy's intent.