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Wary Italy the obstacle as Slovakia target final

Slovakia coach Ladislav Pecko will be without key defenders for the semi-final against Italy, who will not underestimate the hosts after their unexpected run to the last four.

Slovakia's players take the plaudits from the home fans
Slovakia's players take the plaudits from the home fans ©Sportsfile

Ladislav Pecko will send his Slovakia side out to attack Italy in the first UEFA European Under-17 Championship semi-final on Tuesday, in front of what is set to be a raucous home crowd in the Štadión MŠK Žilina.

With his men just 80 minutes away from making the final on their own turf, the former ŠK Slovan Bratislava player knows their opponents, like all great Italian sides, will be watertight at the back. Pecko has called on his men to make the most of any opportunity that comes their way.

"Even Italians make mistakes, we just need to force them do so," he said, after guiding his side to top spot in Group A. "We will try to attack them so they do not have time for their typical, organised, defensive play. It would be great if we can take the lead. They will have to open up a bit and think about attacking as well. That is the only chance we have to do well."

With the bulk of his side together for the past two years, most of the squad will remember the pair of friendly games with Italy in October 2011, which ended in a 0-0 draw and 3-1 defeat. "That is to our advantage.," added Pecko. "We experienced their style of play and how effective they are. We learned a lot from those games."

With the side defying all expectations in their first appearance in the tournament, the coach is hoping the feel-good factor they have inspired can carry them to Friday's showpiece, despite the absence of suspended defenders Andrej Kadlec and Denis Vavro. "We will miss both players, but that is why we have a squad," said Pecko. "I hope the guys who play enjoy the match and atmosphere. A big blow will be the absence of Denis Vavro but we have to cope at this level."

In contrast, Italy are suspension free, and welcome back captain and leader of the attack, Alberto Cerri, who missed the final group game with Russia after picking up a pair of yellow cards. Coach Daniele Zoratto has a full squad to choose from. "The lads are in good shape, we have no injuries so everything is fine," he said. "We want to reach the final, but of course we are not the only ones."

Like many, Zoratto did not know too much about Slovakia's qualities before the tournament, but will not be underestimating the hosts. He continued: "It is going to be a difficult game because they are aggressive and have good individuals and attack a lot. They are physical with lots of determination so it is not going to be easy. They were rather unknown, but we have seen the games they have played and they have been very successful, deservedly reaching the semis, and they have shown that they have quality players."

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