Antonio Conte says the Republic of Ireland got more than they deserved from their 1-0 win over his Italy side on Wednesday.
With their Euro 2016 survival on the line, Ireland found a way, with Robbie Brady scoring the winner with just five minutes to spare to book his side their place in the round of 16 and a meeting with hosts France.
The goal sparked wild scenes of celebration but Conte says it was hardly deserved, adding that he was happy with the response from his players.
“Congratulations to Republic of Ireland, they were rewarded. A little more than they deserved, but rewarded nonetheless,” he said.
“I saw some great responses because those who played gave everything they had. We were punished when we were on top of the game.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose, a draw would have been the fairer outcome given the chances produced. Having already qualified, we had the option to make some changes and give a rest to those who put a lot in. Despite all that, I think we saw a side that has strengths and weaknesses but wants to keep scrapping until the end.
“The first aim was to reach the last 16. Now we have a match against one of the favourites [Spain]. Let’s not forget where we started, we mustn’t get above our station.”
Italy’s road to the final is a complicated one and if they thought winning their group would make life easier, they were mistaken.
Reigning champions Spain – who beat Italy 4-0 in the final four years ago – await Conte’s side.
Also on their side of the draw are Germany, France and England.
“We should let the match [against Spain] excite us, just as it did against Belgium, who were stronger on paper,” Conte said.
“Had we not started on the front foot it would have been tough because we played a team who played the game of their lives. I know what it’s like to play a game like this.
“With the draw, it’s definitely odd to win the group and come up against Spain, and the winner will play Germany and then France. It’s a pretty problematic road to the final.
“But that’s the way it is, those are the rules.”
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