Italy have proved the doubters wrong by qualifying for the last 16 of Euro 2016 with a game to spare, says Antonio Conte.
Despite coming through qualification for the tournament undefeated, the Azzurri’s lack of star power has been highlighted as a potential shortcoming in France.
They followed up a 2-0 win over Belgium in their opening Group E clash with a late 1-0 win against Sweden on Friday, Eder scoring the only goal with two minutes remaining.
Having previously had their Euro 2016 prospects called into question, Conte believes Italy have supplied an emphatic response to their critics.
“Above all I think that there should be great satisfaction on the part of everybody because I think there are very few who would have thought of us qualifying for the last 16 after just two games,” he said.
“Many even doubted us going through the group and the fact we’re into the last 16 after just two games is a huge satisfaction.”
— Italy (@azzurri) June 17, 2016
Conte praised the efforts of his team against Sweden, but admitted to witnessing “anxiety and nervousness” in their display.
“I think this group, me included, feels a lot when they wear this shirt – the responsibility of representing a country, particularly in a time which is not great for the country in all aspects,” the Chelsea-bound coach continued.
“In the first half, there was a bit of anxiety and nervousness. The ball wasn’t moving for us and this favoured Sweden.
“We’ve beaten a side we’ve always struggled against in the past so I’m happy that we’ve done this without conceding any real chances, also hitting the crossbar [through Marco Parolo] and creating chances.
“I’m pleased for the lads because they deserve an awful lot and I hope these two wins can allow us to gain more confidence. We started with rather flat tyres and now we’re trying to pump them up with every game.”
Italy are now focusing their attention on Republic of Ireland and securing top spot with maximum points, though Conte hopes to give game time to different players.
“We want to win our third game, be clear of this,” he added. “We’re hungry and want to win the third game too.
“I’m not going to make wholesale changes. I’m going to pick a side that I think can win the match and I’m going to give a chance to those that deserve to show on the field what they are doing in training session.”