Conte: “The Belgium friendly will be an important test ahead of the EUROs, we have to take them as an example”

Belgium and Italy have experienced different situations in the recent past, as head Conte highlighted during today’s press conference: “We’re expecting a good game against a team that are now among the favourites for the tournament. Belgium have very talented players; they recently finished third in the U17 World Cup. Hats off to them for what they’ve done in minimal time, bringing players from the youth national teams to the senior team. There is a lot of important and organised work behind that, it’s almost enviable. I’ve read somewhere that they have training centers not only for amateurs, but also for professional players: In Italy and in many other countries it’s very difficult to involve the clubs. We have to insist on improving our academies; we constantly control our youth sides, but it would be extremely difficult for us to carry out a project like Belgium’s. They made an enormous jump in the rankings from 67th to first in just a few years.”
Italy’s head coach knows what he wants, as usual. Beyond the result, he expects precise answers: “We’re preparing for a European Championship,” commented Conte, “we’re on the eve of an important match, we want to test ourselves against the best teams. We’ll try our best tomorrow. Whatever the final score will be, we won’t have to lose heart or get too excited; we just have to understand how far we’ve come, what we’re doing and what we can achieve. It will be a ‘friendly’. They’ll definitely be motivated to face a team with such rich history like Italy. Personally, I’ll be experimenting tactically ahead of the EUROs. Beyond the final score, which is obviously important, what we want to do is play football and dictate the games. If Belgium eventually prove better than us, we’ll acknowledge that. I’m very happy with all the players called up so far, they’ve always demonstrated a lot of determination. I reiterate once more: in order to achieve extraordinary things, you need extraordinary men and players in the first place. This is my creed and I’ll always follow it.”
Conte once again wanted to highlight how important it is for his players to also be great men: “We’re trying to build a team that can overcome struggles. My career taught me that these difficulties are overcome by men first and then by players. These games are helpful to find potential alternatives to the regulars ahead of a tournament where you have the opportunity to call up two players for every position and three goalkeepers. Verratti, Parolo and Soriano have played brilliantly in the last two matches, as did Montolivo and Florenzi against Norway. Games like this are important in order to make the right choices and assemble the most suitable 23-man squad for tournaments like a European Championship or a World Cup. These choices are crucial.”
Azzurri captain Gigi Buffon addressed the media along with Conte. “We have an important tradition,” commented Italy’s goalkeeper. “I hope that we’re building something important right now that will continue our successful history. We think highly of Belgium, they’re filled with talent, a lot of them very young players who have been playing together for many years now. I think they’re among the favourites at the EUROs and for the following Word Cup too. Since they’ll play at home, Belgium will want to make a good impression, but so do we. I don’t know if this group is more close-knit than in the past. What I know is that if we all have the same aims and work seriously on improving every finest detail, there is a greater chance of  creating harmony in the group.”
Italy and Belgium have played each other 20 times so far, with the head-to-head record in favour of the Azzurri: Italy boast 13 wins, Belgium 3, while the remaining four encounters ended in a draw. These side last met at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on 30th May 2008: Italy, who were then defending World Champions, beat Belgium 3-1 in a friendly ahead of the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland.
The Azzurri have played three times at the King Baudouin Stadium, winning both games held there during the 2000 EUROs (2-0 against Belgium and Romania). The third match saw Italy take on Mexico in a friendly ahead of the World Cup in South Africa, with the Central American side winning 2-1.   ]]>