Benassi: England aren't overrated

Italy need a win against England and a favour from Portugal if they are to climb off the bottom of Group B but midfielder Marco Benassi knows beating England will not be easy.

Marco Benassi did a good job in the Italy midfield against Portugal
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Before England's last U21 EURO fixture against Sweden, there was a newspaper headline pinned up in the squad's hotel dining room quoting the claim by the Scandinavians' Ludwig Augustinsson that Gareth Southgate's players were overrated.

Italy midfielder Marco Benassi avoided providing England with similar extra motivation going into Wednesday's decisive Group B meeting with his team, sidestepping the trap when asked his thoughts on Southgate's side at the pre-match press conference.

"I don't think England are overrated," he said. "If they reached this stage of the competition, it means they have a very good team. All the teams here deserved to reach the finals and it will be a very difficult game."

Benassi himself showed he warrants a place on this stage with the big impact he made when he came into Italy's midfield for their second game against Portugal. Indeed inside ten seconds he burst forward and tried a shot from 25 metres – a deliberate "strategy", he explained, and one of several attempts on goal by the Torino youngster, who was one of Italy's brightest sparks in the 0-0 draw.

"Against Portugal I felt very relaxed and composed," said the 20-year-old, who made 25 appearances in Serie A in 2014/15. "Since we got together, I've been focusing on preparing myself in the best way to be ready. I knew my chance would come and it happened."

Yet he and his team were ultimately frustrated. They have scored only one goal in the Czech Republic, a penalty by Domenico Berardi, and find themselves with their backs to the wall against England, needing a win and a favour from Portugal.

"Why aren't we scoring? It a problem that concerns the whole team, not only the strikers," he added. Against England they face a team who have only conceded one goal so far in Group B and whose most experienced centre-back, John Stones, is available again after concussion.

It will not be easy, even if the record books show that England have not beaten Italy at this level since 1997 – when Francesco Totti was Azzurrini captain. Benassi went on: "Tomorrow we will try to do our best to play a great game, we will do everything to win. We have to be totally committed and be prepared to work hard for each other if we want to reach our goal. This is a knockout match for us, so we need absolutely to win."

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