Giorgio Chiellini was at the 2010 World Cup and “not even the most optimistic of us thought we'd qualify so easily.”
Italy crashed out in the first round by finishing bottom of their group in South Africa, but Cesare Prandelli has now taken them to their best ever European Championship qualifying campaign.
With one goal conceded, five straight wins and 22 points in eight games, the Azzurri had never before qualified with two rounds to spare.
“If we think back to a year ago, not even the most optimistic of us thought we'd qualify so easily,” grinned Chiellini after the 1-0 win over Slovenia.
“Having said that, it was a struggle again tonight with a team that clammed up and we know Italy are never that sharp in September.
“We keep going forward with victories and 689 minutes without conceding a goal. That's down to the whole team, not just the defence or an individual.
“The defence was criticised a year ago, but the truth was the whole team lacked balance and was still trying to find its organisation. The credit goes to the Coach who sorted out those issues.
“We wanted this qualification at all costs, far more than people thought. Our desire to finish it off on home turf in Florence was very important to us.”