Antonio Conte said Andrea Pirlo “deserves more respect” after criticism and feels Italy have the toughest Euro 2016 group.
The Azzurri won both games this week, beating Malta and Bulgaria 1-0, putting them top of Group H ahead of Norway and Croatia.
“We’re not qualified yet, so that has to be the primary focus until it is secured,” the Coach told Sky Sport Italia.
“We have absolutely the toughest group of all. We’ve put together 18 points in eight games and we still aren’t qualified. Anyone who thinks this is going to be easy has got it very wrong indeed.”
So far only England, the Czech Republic and Iceland have qualified for Euro 2016.
Pirlo was criticised for his performance against Malta and benched for the Bulgaria game, but Conte rushed to the New York City FC midfielder’s defence.
“What really disappoints me is the lack of respect from some towards an immense player. He deserves more respect in every way.
“Pirlo cannot be considered irreplaceable one day and the next ready for the scrap heap.”
Among the comments, Juventus director general Beppe Marotta said Pirlo should consider the right moment to hang up his Azzurri boots.
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