Antonio Conte has breathed new life into the Italy set up, according to Leonardo Bonucci.
Italy booked their place at Euro 2016 with a 3-1 win in Azerbaijan on Saturday and will be confirmed as Group H winners if they take a point from Tuesday’s meeting with second-placed Norway.
A series of narrow victories throughout their campaign – including one-goal wins over Malta and Bulgaria – saw Conte’s men come in for some criticism.
But Juventus defender Bonucci hit back by insisting they always had faith that the coach would make improvements following their group-stage exit under Cesare Prandelli at the World Cup in 2014.
“In the difficult moments, everyone loves to criticise the work of the players and the coach,” Bonnuci told Sky Sport Italia.
“We have always known that we would do well with Conte and we were proved right.
“We achieved qualification a round early and that is a great result for a side that was reborn from the ashes of a disastrous World Cup in Brazil.
“Now we all need to work together to achieve one objective, as this squad has a lot of quality.
“There are promising young players and elements of experience in Gigi [Gianluigi] Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi.
“It’s a good mix and qualification is a small step forward. Now we must prepare for a very difficult European Championship.”
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