Italy should not be written off at Euro 2016

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We're approaching ten years since Italy won the World Cup in Berlin. A tournament that will be remembered for Zinedine Zidane's famous headbutt on Marco Materazzi and Italy's magnificent defence, typified when Fabio Cannavaro was crowned World Player of the Year - the last defender to win the prestigious award.

After becoming world champions in Germany, Italy struggled to build on their success. A disastrous defence of their title followed four years later as they crashed out of South Africa in 2010 at the group stage.

Two years later the Azzurri surprised many by knocking out favourites Germany to reach the final of Euro 2012, only to be outplayed by the Spanish. The Italians' ageing side featured in Brazil two years ago, again largely underachieving and going home at the group stages.


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So history tells us that this will be a successful tournament for Antonio Conte's side, but all superstitions aside, many have dismissed Italy's chances in France and at first glance, it isn't hard to see why.


Marco Verratti was ruled out of the tournament through injury, the PSG playmaker is one of the best young players in Europe and will be a big miss for Italy, as will Juventus veteran Claudio Marchisio.

The experienced Italian midfielder has been pivotal to Juventus' success over the last few years and these high-profile injuries, as well as Andrea Pirlo's absence, means a lot of question marks remain over Conte's potential midfield.

If you look a little deeper though Italy fans do have reasons to be hopeful of having a good tournament. Conte's team arguably have the best defence in the competition with Juventus trio: Leonardo Bonnucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

Not many nations have the luxury of possessing such a strong defence who play with each other every week and the three defenders have been a formidable force during Juventus' domestic dominance, winning the last five Serie A titles.

The injuries to Verratti and Marchisio is the main reason for the fans' lack of confidence but the experience of World Cup winner Daniele De Rossi in midfield will be vital.

Juventus' youngster Stefano Sturaro is an exciting talent, as is Federico Bernardeschi, the technically gifted midfielder is regarded as one of Italy's hottest prospects and both midfielders are being tipped to shine for Conte's team.

Stephan El Shaarawy is also expected to feature for the Italians, the young Roma forward has finally started to live up to expectations after plenty of hype overshadowed his initial progress and he can cause a lot of problems for defences with his pace.

Simone Zaza is another exciting talent for the Azzurri, although the Juventus forward is likely to be used as a substitute, he will be expected to hurt tired defences coming from the bench later on in games.

Southampton's Graziano Pelle or Eder is expected to lead the line for Conte's team, Eder has put himself in contention after an impressive season for Inter Milan.

Italy have, without a doubt, one of the most talented managers in the tournament. The new Chelsea manager went through the entire 2012/13 Serie A season unbeaten with Juventus, demonstrating his tactical ability and has since created an extremely organised national side who will be very difficult to break down.

All great Italian teams have had fantastic defences and the current crop are no different. Their ageing squad was a big factor behind recent tournament failures and despite their injury problems, they finally have the young players capable of changing the game if required.

Conte's team face big favourites Belgium in Group E, as well as Republic of Ireland and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in the tournament's toughest group.

Italy's 1982 and 2006 World Cup winning squads were not necessarily considered potential winners and traditionally they have always thrived when they have been underdogs - underestimating them would be a foolish mistake at Euro 2016.

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Euro 2016
Italy Football
Stephan El Shaarawy
Serie A

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