Leonardo Bonucci warned records won’t be enough to put Italy back among the elite. “We lack experience in comparison with Spain, France and Germany.”
The final qualifier kicks off on Monday at 19.45 GMT, as Armenia visit the Stadio Barbera in Palermo.
They already set a new record of 10 consecutive victories and can complete a perfect Group J run, but the Juventus defender isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“We will be back among the best football nations in Europe when we prove that we’ve made that step up to compete with those who in recent years have made the difference on the world stage,” said the centre-back in his press conference.
“When it comes to comparisons with Spain, France and Germany, we are perhaps still lacking a little something, above all in terms of experience. They have many players at the top in Europe, but that really is all we are missing now.
“The more you play against teams with intensity, quality and attacking intent, the better you become. We are accelerating this process thanks to the CT (Roberto Mancini).
“I’ve made mistakes and they helped me grow. It’ll be the same for the young players in this squad. The great thing about this group is that we all get along and feel involved.”
More pressure and responsibility was heaped on Bonucci, both for Juve and Italy, following Giorgio Chiellini’s serious knee injury.
“It was an important moment and it did spark something more in me. My objective was to be better than the previous two years, because I know that I hadn’t been at my best and was in some difficult situations.
“I may be 32 years old, but I can still improve and grow. I see Giorgio every day in Turin and I am sure he’ll surprise everyone with how quickly he recovers.”
Bonucci was criticised following the 3-1 victory in Armenia back in September, as he was accused of feigning an elbow to the face in order to get Aleksandre Karapetyan sent off.
“As I explained many times, I did not simulate anything. I had a really bad cut to my left eye four days earlier and I still have the scar from the stitches now.
“It was an instinctive gesture to feel concern when I felt a knock there and I didn’t know Karapetyan was already on a yellow card. There are moments when you just don’t think, but there are things I have never done and will never do.
“I’ve never been afraid of criticism. I have the utmost respect for Armenia, I’ll meet up with Karapetyan again tomorrow and it’ll be another intense match.
“Armenia will sit with 10 men behind the ball and wait to hit us on the counter.”
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