Italy head coach Antonio Conte believes his nation are well behind Belgium when it comes to producing quality young players.
As part of their preparations for Euro 2016, the two sides meet in Brussels on Friday with both having won their final four qualifiers to seal progress to the tournament in France.
Belgium’s recent rise has seen them climb to number one in the FIFA world rankings – an ascent aided by the emergence of the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
And Conte, for whom experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Pirlo form the backbone of his regular starting XI, is in admiration at the strides Belgium have made.
“I expect a great game against one of the favourites to win Euro 2016,” he said.
“They deserve credit for producing young stars and we should envy the way they have achieved it.
“They are a team with a clear identity, plus they have players who can win games by themselves with an individual bit of skill.
“I think Belgium have everything it takes to do well in the future.
“Anderlecht and Standard Liege put their academies at the disposal of the Federation. That couldn’t happen in Italy. We’re a long way off from them in that respect.
“The Azzurri will be fired up [for this match] and so it’ll be a friendly in name only.”
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