Italy entered Euro 2016 with minimal expectations, comprising an unexciting contingency of players, many having labeled the current side the worst Italian team of all time.
With most of the legendary players that graced the team a few years ago now gone, there have not been enough talented players to come through in recent years, leaving manager Antonio Conte with very less creative options to choose from.
Having lost key players such as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio to injury before the start of the tournament, the Italian manager was dealt a tricky hand in terms of players.
BECOME A WRITER
Do you have what it takes? Sign up today and send over your 250-word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay3
Despite the handicap faced by the future Chelsea manager, sound tactics, and crucial player selection and management has allowed the Azzurri to progress past the first knockout round, beating vastly more talented teams such Belgium and Spain.
Here are five potential reasons why we shouldn't be surprised by Italy's performances at Euro 2016.
Knowing the lack of talent present in the Italian squad, the theatrical manager chose to go with players that are tried-and-tested, instead of picking potentially talented ones.
Promising young players such as Daniele Rugani and Gianluigi Donnarumma were both left out in favor of relatively experienced players.
Nine of the 23 players selected in the squad are above the age of 30, with four players close to reaching that bracket.
Therefore, a fair number of players in the team are highly seasoned at club as well as the international level, with several of them having even played under Conte at some point.
An important upside to having familiar players in the team is their loyalty and adherence to tactics and instructions laid out by the manager, and that is exactly the kind of favorable scenario faced by Conte during the Euros.
Conte is a strict disciplinarian, who ranks loyalty and respect above anything else, and will not tolerate any sort of indiscipline in his teams. Hence, players who are more comfortable with the 46-year-old have more chances of thriving under the Italian's management.
Successful 3-5-2 Formation
Conte enjoyed a highly successful tenure as Juventus manager, winning three consecutive titles with the club, and has adopted similar tactics with the national team.
Deploying the same 3-5-2 formation used during his time in Turin, Conte had the rare luxury of placing familiar faces in the form of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci in goal and defence respectively, all of whom served under the former Siena manager for The Old Lady.
With most teams adopting more traditional formations such as 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3, Italy's unique shape and style came as a surprise to the tactics employed by other teams.
Using wing-backs around a back three of experienced central defenders has been the hallmark of Conte's Italian side, proving to be the key factor in the team's solid organisation.
The implementation of wing-backs was a masterstroke by the former Juve manager, not only providing the team with an attacking edge, especially during counter-attacks, but also an extra outlet for the defence to play out too.
Antonio Candreva, Matteo Darmian, Mattia de Sciglio, and Alessandro Florenzi were all rotated as wing-backs during the team's four games in the tournament so far and all seemed comfortable in those positions.
Opposition wingers looked crippled when deployed against Conte's wider full-backs, whereby forcing them to drift inwards to find space, which played directly into Italy's hands.
Having been forced to play so narrow, opposition players came up against the formidable wall of a back three in the form of Chiellini, Barzagli, and Bonucci, who would stamp out any attacks with relative ease.
In the game against Belgium, the potentially menacing threats of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, placed on the wings, were reduced to nothing by Italy's organisation. The Spanish team encountered the same problem during the round of 16.
Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the Azzurri have only conceded one goal in the competition, which came in the final game of the group stages, after making eight changes to the first team having already secured qualification prior to the match.
Great Organisation and Tactics
The Italians have been arguably the most disciplined team in the Euros, which is not wholly surprising given Conte's eye for detail and focus on organisation.
Given the Azzurri's relative lack of individual talent in the team, it was of utmost importance that the team kept their shape at all times and fulfilled their instructions to the letter, something each and every player has been successful in doing so far.
The immense experience and chemistry provided by Buffon, as well as the back three, has been the cornerstone of the team's organisation, allowing the midfielders and attackers to play freely.
Installing two strikers up front provided the team with an outlet for counter-attacks, as well as a target for possible clearances from defence.
The constant support offered by the fast wing-backs, as well as the two central midfielders, allowed the front two to constantly trouble the central defenders.
Graziano Pelle, who was average for Southampton last season, seems to have been reinvented as a player under Conte, proving to be a strong figure in attack for Italy, showing great strength and hold up play against defenders, whereas Eder provides a more mobile option upfront.
Playing around Roma legend Daniele de Rossi, Marco Parolo and Emmanuele Giaccherini have worked tirelessly to support the attack and have shown great movement to navigate the opposition defence.
Confident and Composed Play
The level of confidence and composure exhibited by the Italian players while on the ball has been astonishing, especially in defence.
On several occasions, centre-backs Chiellini and Bonucci have been seen to simply carry the ball on their own, either out of danger or to surge forward for an attack.
These experienced defenders also have the ability to make great passes even from deep inside their own half, as portrayed by Bonucci's pinpoint long ball to Giaccherini en route to scoring the opening goal against the Belgians.
The Italians have shown exquisite ball control, both in defence and attack, which has allowed the team to keep the majority of the possession during the game. Their impressive passing ability and movement has often left the opposition in a heap.
Conte's men never seemed to be under any pressure, being able to find their way out of tricky situations time and time again.
Against Vicente del Bosque's Spanish side, known for their slick passing and movement, the Azzurri not only matched, but surpassed them at their own game.
Conte's Passion for the Team
This high level of precision in the Italians' play is the product of Conte's keen attention to detail and his incessant shouting of instructions from the touchline.
Even when 2-0 up against Spain in stoppage time, the Italian manager never ceased to instruct his players on maintaining their position or marking their men.
Conte's theatrical antics, as well as emotional reactions, even during the most insignificant events in a game, is a testimonial to his passion for the team and his desire to win at all cost, something that could be a key factor heading into the rest of the tournament.
Italy go into the quarter-finals to face favourites and world champions Germany, expected to be their toughest encounter so far in the competition, as Joachim Low's side is also known to play with great organisation and discipline.
Buffon and co. have history on their side, as the Germans have lost all of the four knockout matches they have played against the Italians in major international tournaments.
However, Die Mannschaft boast the best defensive record in the competition, as they are yet to concede a single goal. With an array of world class talent in their ranks, Germany will surely be Italy's greatest test on the path to the finals.
Can Italy go all the way and win Euro 2016? Let us know YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!