Italy’s unexpected hero Emanuele Giaccherini believes his team have the best defence at Euro 2016 after surviving a late Belgium onslaught in Lyon on Monday.
The Sunderland midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Bologna, was held up by many before the tournament as an example of Italy’s inferiority compared to some of their illustrious predecessors.
But he defied his critics by scoring an expertly taken opening goal in a 2-0 win over Group E rivals Belgium at Stade de Lyon, benefitting from a pinpoint Leonardo Bonucci pass.
It was not the defender’s creative skills that were most often on show though, as he and his Juventus colleagues Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini somehow defied a wave of late attacks from Belgium, before Graziano Pelle snatched the settler after a counter-attack in injury time.
“The defence were definitely fantastic tonight,” Giaccherini told a news conference.
“But you don’t need me to sit here and say how good Italy’s defence is. I think we have the best backline in the competition.”
Giaccherini acknowledged he was pleased to silence those who have doubted his suitability to play for the national team, but insisted his satisfaction was more a consequence of the victory than his own contribution.
“I’m delighted,” he said.
“Myself and all of the other players. We all know that whenever we pull on the shirt we are representing the entire nation. It will be that way throughout the competition. Every time you’ll see 11 on the pitch and 12 on the bench who are really up for it.
“I’m always willing to help out the team, I always do what the coach asks of me. I’m pleased with my performance but ultimately it’s about the team and result above all else.”
The man of the match also rejected suggestions Belgium failed to show their quality in Lyon after being hailed as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
“Maybe we didn’t see it, but we certainly felt it,” Giaccherini said.
“Belgium are such a top side on an individual basis. They’ve got some players who can really hurt you on a one-on-one basis at any stage of the game. Everyone had to help each other out, double up and then when we had the ball we had to try and hurt them, that’s what the coach asked us to do.”
Looking ahead to his team’s next match in Toulouse on Friday, he said: “The Sweden game will be tough. Perhaps we will need to defend a bit less, but there will be less space, it will be tighter.”
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