Italy Under-21 Coach Gigi Di Biagio warns tomorrow’s Euro qualifier against Northern Ireland “won’t be a walk in the park.”
The game kicks off in Reggio Emilia’s Mapei Stadium at 20.00 GMT on Thursday and is valid for the European Under-21 Championship.
“On paper this might seem like an easy game, one where Italy should not have any problems, but I have seen some of their performances and can say if we’re not prepared to make sacrifices, then they’ll be tough to beat,” said Di Biagio in his Press conference.
“I warned the lads this will not be a walk in the park.”
Northern Ireland have lost all their four of their games so far in Group 9, whereas Belgium are top on 12 points from five matches, followed by Italy (three games), Serbia (three games) and Cyprus (five games) on six.
“We must build not only on the victory over Belgium, but also the previous performances. The lads give me strength every day with their desire to learn and eagerness to work for the team. If we have the same grit as our opponents, then it won’t be a problem, otherwise technique won’t be enough to beat them.
“We want to see the same approach as against Belgium, so raising the tempo straight away and take the initiative.
“Northern Ireland traditionally play on knock-downs and are physically very strong, even if in terms of technique they leave something to be desired, but they’ll make themselves tough to beat.
“The side has improved considerably over these three months, but our problems haven’t been resolved yet.”
Italy have a head-to-head with Serbia on September 5, but Di Biagio won’t rest stars against Northern Ireland.
“I will put out the best team to win this game. From the day after tomorrow we can talk about Serbia, but we mustn’t forget this is a knockout competition and every point counts.”