Cologne (Germany) (AFP) – Inter Milan’s progress to a first European final in a decade will not be cherished unless they beat Sevilla to win the Europa League on Friday, coach Antonio Conte has warned his players.
The Italian giants have not won any silverware for nine years, but have made big strides in Conte’s first season in charge to close to within one point of perennial champions Juventus at the top of Serie A and sweep aside Getafe, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk since the Europa League’s return earlier this month in northern Germany.
Conte won the Champions League with Juventus as a player, but had more experience on the losing end in major finals, losing two more Champions League finals and at the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Italy.
“What I’ve realised is that people only remember when you win finals,” the former Juventus, Chelsea and Italy boss said at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“I won the Champions League, but I lost a further four finals and the people that leave their mark on history are those that win matches and trophies.
“We should be proud we have reached a first final for 10 years, especially at a prestigious club like Inter. But history is written by the conquerors, the winners. That is added motivation for us to go out and win.”
Conte has made a habit of having an instant impact. He won league titles in his first season at Siena, Juventus and Chelsea, but believes his first year in Milan has seen a more gradual improvement.
“My perception working with these players day in, day out, all of the players bought into the work and have become braver as the season wore on.
“The braver we became, the greater chances we had to bring home a big trophy like the Europa League.
“We’re here now and we need to make the most of the opportunity.”
Sevilla are the most successful side in Europa League history with five wins in the competition over the past 14 years.
But it is Inter who are favourites in Cologne thanks to a potent striker partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez.
Both scored twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Shakhtar in Monday’s semi-final to take their combined tally for the season to 54 goals.
Lukaku was Conte’s top priority in the transfer market last summer and finally convinced the club to splash out a club record 75 million euros ($89 million) to sign the Belgian.
“I knew Lukaku very well because he’s a player I’d followed for some time,” Conte added. “I tried many times to sign him at my former clubs. I knew the characteristics he had.
“As for Lautaro, he was a player I had admired on television, even though he hadn’t played much last year. I saw his capability and his quality.
“It was inevitable that, working together, and working a lot, the understanding between the two would develop. They’re players who have the typical selfishness of a forward, but also the selflessness to play for the team and help others score.”
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