Inspired Italians ready for Super Swede Zlatan

Montpellier (France) (AFP) – Lazio winger Antonio Candreva said an inspired Italy are ready to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic from relaunching Sweden’s stuttering Euro 2016 campaign when the sides meet in Toulouse on Friday.

Beaten 2012 finalists Italy are on cloud nine after upsetting the formbook in spectacular fashion Monday with a 2-0 win over Belgium, ranked second in the world, that sent Antonio Conte’s men top of Group E.

Italy can book their place in the last 16 knockout phase with a win in Toulouse, where the Swedes will be counting on Ibrahimovic to save their campaign after a frustrating 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland. 

Ibrahimovic is well known to Italy and their players, having played for many years in Serie A with Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan before his move to Paris Saint-Germain.

And while Candreva is well aware of the towering striker’s threat, he said Italy will focus on their own game and try to exploit the Swedes’ weakest points. 

“Zlatan can put a whole team under pressure just by himself, but we have to concentrate on our own game,” Candreva told media on Wednesday.

“But we’ll certainly be trying to exploit Sweden’s weak points, and try to limit their strengths. Already this morning we worked on a few tactics with a view to the game.

“Sweden struggled for 60 minutes against Ireland but against us they’ll be hoping to play the game of their lives. It will be a hard match.”

Now an integral part of Conte’s tight 3-5-2 formation, Candreva was joined on Wednesday by Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi, who has become a father for the first time after his wife gave birth to a daughter, Penelope, in recent days.

– Defying the critics –

Known as one of Italy’s most talented and versatile players, Florenzi hit the headlines last season with a spectacular goal for Roma from the halfway line against Champions League group rivals Barcelona that put him among the three finalists for the FIFA Puskas Award.

He is also a former winner of the Under-21 European Championship with Italy, but he says paternity beats all his past achievements.

“Becoming a father has been the most important event of my life,” said Florenzi.

But the versatile midfielder said his focus for the coming weeks is to continue defying the Azzurri’s detractors.

“Before the Euro all the newspapers said we wouldn’t get past the first round, that we didn’t have technically gifted players,” he said.

“A lot of unfounded claims were made. Now, after one game, people are starting to believe in us again.” 

Italy, beaten 4-0 by Spain in the 2012 final, are hoping to make amends for their second successive first-round exit from the World Cup, in Brazil two years ago.

It led to the immediate resignation of coach Cesare Prandelli, and in the aftermath reports claimed Italy were undone by a lack of team unity.

Under no-nonsense Conte, who will take over at Chelsea later this summer, Italy were virtually impenetrable at the back against Belgium, while dynamic and creative in midfield and attack.

Conte will be wary after Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Eder and Thiago Motta were all cautioned Monday, meaning they are one booking away from a one-match suspension.

But Florenzi admitted they had escaped fairly lightly: “When we scored our second goal in Lyon, we celebrated with such extravagance that we were lucky the referee didn’t give the whole squad a yellow card.”

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