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UEFA Euro 2016 contenders – Italy

Since winning the World Cup in 2006 under the stewardship of Marcelo Lippi, Italy have been abysmal at world football’s highest stage, going home at the first hurdle from the last two editions of the football’s acme event. However, they did extremely well at the European Championship in 2012 when they reached the final in Kiev, although they were completely taken apart in the summit clash by Spain who thrashed them 4-0 in what turned out to be a one-sided affair.

Italy are now managed by Antonio Conte, a strict disciplinarian, and a man with a proven track record in management at the club level. He led the side through a successful qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 in France next year and the way his team are playing has raised the expectations of the Azzurri faithful as they dream of being crowned the European champions for the first time since 1968.

Conte took charge of the national team following an abrupt departure from the helm of Juventus, whom he had guided to three successive Scudettos during his time at the Juventus Stadium. He took the rein of the Azzurri and the transformation in their fortunes and playing style has been clearly apparent. Conte is known for the respect that he commands and the authority with which he runs his team and it clearly seems to have worked with the national team.

The Azzurri boss has a strong team with the veteran custodian Gianluigi Buffon still showing no signs of slowing down even at 37 years of age. Ahead of him, Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are the first choice centre-backs with quality on either side of the defence in the form of Manchester United right-back Matteo Darmian, and Mattia De Sciglio on the left.

The midfield has the likes of Marco Verratti, Claudio Marchisio, Marco Parolo, Riccardo Montolivo, Alessandro Florenzi, Daniele De Rossi, and Andrea Bertolacci amongst others. The attack will probably be led by Southampton hitman Graziano Pelle with adequate support from Simone Zazza and Lorenzo Insigne.

Italy’s group, Group E, has Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Sweden, which doesn’t make it a straight forward proposition, but the Italians surely have the squad to top the group. However, the lack of international experience up front could bother them in the knockout stages of the tournament.