Christian Vieri has given Italy coach Antonio Conte full credit for the country’s impressive performance at Euro 2016 so far, saying “it’s all him”.
Conte has led his side to victories over Belgium, Sweden and Spain, setting up a mouth-watering quarter-final clash with Germany in Bordeaux on Saturday.
Italy have conceded just one goal in the tournament, during a 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland with qualification for the knockout stages already assured, and former Azzurri striker Vieri heaped praise on his one-time Juventus team-mate for masterminding the campaign.
Comparing Italy’s performance at Euro 2016 with their poor showing at the World Cup in 2014, when they failed to make it out of their group, Vieri told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “It’s like day and night in every sense.
“It’s all him [Conte]. He has charisma, personality, knows what he wants and gets the most out of his players. He is a star when it comes to tactics and he is very prepared.
“He knows who is running, and anyone who isn’t is sent home. That’s what he wants and it’s right. People are proud of this Italy, I am proud of these 23 players and the coach.
“I’m watching Italy with passion and I see that the players are full of enthusiasm.
“They are in love with the Azzurri shirt and all the values that it brings. I see a lot of pride amongst the fans on social media and I see a lot of excitement within the team, and they don’t hold back on the field.
“When you play like that, the result isn’t as important because winning or losing can happen because of certain incidents.”
Two of Italy’s five goals at Euro 2016 have come from Southampton striker Graziano Pelle, and Vieri – who scored 23 times in 49 appearances for his country – heaped praise on the 30-year-old striker for his part in the 2-0 last-16 victory over holders Spain.
“Pelle was great against Spain,” Vieri said. “He played for the team.
“At times people laud strikers that really only do two or three great things for the team. The other night, Pelle was at the full disposal of the team. It’s thanks to him that the entire side played well.
“He knows how to finish, he’s big and he isn’t afraid of anyone – even defenders who are big in size. He troubled Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, two great players. He makes the most of his qualities, and that means he isn’t meant to be used to counter.”
Pelle only made his senior international debut in 2014, but Vieri said he may still have a long career at the top of the game ahead of him.
“You can ask someone like him to continue to grow until he is 35,” said Vieri.
“I say that as someone who was put down for his abilities. I always challenged myself to improve. You can do so at any age.”