Conte backs Italy to beat Belgium despite 'force of nature' Lukaku

By Sports Desk June 29, 2021

Antonio Conte says Italy must be wary of "force of nature" Romelu Lukaku but is backing Roberto Mancini to mastermind a Euro 2020 victory over Belgium.

The Azzurri reached the quarter-finals by extending their unbeaten run to a national record 31 matches with a tense 2-1 victory over Austria after extra time at Wembley.

Belgium dethroned holders Portugal to set up a showdown with Italy in Munich on Friday, Thorgan Hazard scoring the only goal.

Mancini's side have won 12 consecutive matches, while the Red Devils have gone 13 without defeat ahead of a blockbuster battle in Bavaria.

Conte believes Italy must find a way to keep Lukaku quiet, with the striker having fired Conte's Inter side to Serie A glory with 24 goals last season and struck three times in four Euro 2020 games.

But the former Italy boss thinks the Azzurri can delivier a knockout blow to Belgium, who have injury concerns over midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard.

Conte, who left Inter at the end of the 2020-21 season, told the Gazzetta dello Sport: "As well as the psychological aspect and the attitude: that indispensable mix of grit, concentration, desire to help, the ability to suffer and not give up.

"Each player must put themselves at the service of the group. There are three qualities that differentiate top athletes from normal athletes in modern football: strength, speed and endurance.

"I'm not even talking about the technical qualities that I take for granted. To all this, which is the basis for achieving important results, our national team has shown that it knows how to add its own expression and an idea of ​​the game that other teams have shown less, relying more on important individuals, capable of deciding a game on their own or almost. 

"This is what I have also seen some great national teams do, given as favourites. Our next opponent Belgium is a strong team individually and collectively.

"Lukaku is a force of nature, he works alone, but I discover hot water in saying that the presence or absence of De Bruyne and Hazard on Friday can change the balance.

 

"I have a lot of respect for the coach [Roberto] Martinez for the work he has done in recent ears, but the performance against Portugal did not fully convince me both in the attacking phase and in the defensive phase.

"But Mancini does not need advice, on a tactical level the Italian technicians know how to prepare the game like few others, Roberto [Mancini] will field a team that will be able to manage every situation."

Related items

  • Maddison makes England case again, missing World Cup 'a shame for the country' Maddison makes England case again, missing World Cup 'a shame for the country'

    James Maddison not going to the World Cup with England would be "a shame for the country", said Brendan Rodgers after the Leicester City midfielder scored another two goals on Monday.

    Maddison's continued absence from Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad has been the source of some contention.

    The 25-year-old has earned only a single England cap, in November 2019, and appears to face an uphill battle to gain favour with Southgate before Qatar 2022 kicks off next month.

    Yet Maddison has started the Premier League season in outstanding form. After scoring two and assisting another in Leicester's 4-0 win over fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest, he has seven goal involvements in seven appearances.

    Going back to the start of the previous campaign, Southgate's captain Harry Kane is the only English player with more Premier League goals (24) or goal involvements (34) than Maddison (17 goals, 10 assists).

    "It's such a shame for the country and for James himself," manager Rodgers told Sky Sports. "You see his talent, and his performance level for the last 18 months I think everybody is clear on.

    "I think it's only Harry Kane who has created and scored more goals than him, so to not even be in the squad...

    "Even if he's not going to start, to have a player of that quality and not only in that, in international football, to have the personality to take the ball, be creative, take the ball and change the game, James is all of that. He's an absolutely brilliant player.

    "I really hope over these next few months he can continue the form he's shown for 18 months and somehow get into the team, because if you're wanting creativity, you're wanting personality – he's improved his defensive side of his game, and he can play in a couple of positions.

    "For me, he's an absolutely outstanding player, and he's up there.

    "I love Phil Foden, Mason Mount, those boys who play there – Jack Grealish is different, Jack plays from the side – but Madders can play in a number of positions to a high level, and he showed that tonight."

    Maddison, who said suggestions he would not be a good character within the group if not starting were "insulting", added: "It's been a weird position for me.

    "We [Leicester] have been bottom of the league, and results have not been going our way, but I've almost been as confident as I've ever been in my career.

    "I don't remember over the last 12 months playing better than I have and feeling as well as I have.

    "It's obviously hard to answer this question [on his England hopes], because you want to say the right thing, you don't want to say the wrong thing, but that's an ambition of mine, a goal of mine.

    "I'm a football man, I watch all the games, I watch international football, and an opportunity at that level would be something I desire. I almost know I'd have an impact.

    "It's one I hope will come my way at some point."

  • 'I'm not stupid' – Conte urges Spurs fans to back his judgement over Spence omission 'I'm not stupid' – Conte urges Spurs fans to back his judgement over Spence omission

    Antonio Conte has told Tottenham fans "I'm not stupid" and "I can teach football to many people" in a strong defence of his decision to overlook Djed Spence.

    Spence has made only one very brief substitute appearance for Spurs following his move from Middlesbrough in July.

    Some Tottenham fans called for the right-back to be given his chance after Emerson Royal was sent off for a reckless challenge on Gabriel Martinelli during a 3-1 north London derby defeat to fierce rivals Arsenal on Saturday.

    But Conte made it crystal clear he is not impressed with questions being asked about his approach ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash at Eintracht Frankfurt.

    The Spurs head coach said: "If we were able to exploit the situation, especially last passes, we would have been able to score many goals against Arsenal.

    "Instead, we made really bad mistakes for the last passes because we had the opportunity to go one-to-one, but every team has to think and understand the way to play different games.

    "Last season we won 3-0 [against Arsenal], and when you win, the opponent has to explain, but for me it's important to have a plan, to put my players in the best possible situation to exploit their characteristics.

    "Otherwise it can happen that you can concede six, seven or eight goals – in England, that happens a lot of times.

    "In my career, it never, never happened because I don't like to play open, concede a lot of space and concede six, seven or eight goals. I won in England, I won in my past and I think I can teach football to many people."

    He said of Spence: "The fans have to be fans. They can think anything, but I see every day the training sessions. If I don't decide to pick a player, it's because maybe he's not ready.

    "We are talking about a young player with a good prospect, but I try to pick the best team. I'm not stupid, I don't want to lose.

    "I try to pick the best team. If they trust me it's okay, if they don't trust me then I'm the coach and I need to take the best decision for Tottenham."

  • Former Argentina forward Higuain confirms retirement at end of MLS season Former Argentina forward Higuain confirms retirement at end of MLS season

    Gonzalo Higuain will retire from professional football at the end of the 2022 MLS season, he announced on Monday.

    The veteran striker, a 75-cap former Argentina international who was a member of the squad that came second at the 2014 World Cup, will bring the curtain down on a glittering 17-year career.

    Higuain played over 100 games for each of Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus, having began his playing days with River Plate, while he also had brief spells with Milan and Chelsea before joining Inter Miami.

    A six-time domestic league champion – with three LaLiga crowns and three Serie A triumphs – he signed for the MLS club in September 2020.

    Higuain has been in top form for Miami in the second half of this season, scoring 12 goals and assisting a further two in the past 14 games.

    Phil Neville's side are seventh in the Eastern Conference, clinging to the final playoff place with two games of the regular season remaining.

    Victories over Orlando City on Wednesday and CF Montreal on Sunday would extend Miami's season and Higuain's career.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.