WARSAW (AFP) – Champions are made of many things, not least talent and quality but there are also other vital ingredients that can often be overlooked, such as self-belief and an insatiable will to win.
If there is one thing that has stood out in Italy’s dazzling march to the Euro 2012 final it has been their confidence and ingrained self-assuredness.
Cesare Prandelli’s team came into the tournament in disarray having lost three straight friendlies since qualifying for the tournament, the last being a 3-0 humbling by Russia.
Added to that was the not insignificant distraction of a domestic match-fixing scandal, which cost Domenico Criscito his place in the squad bound for Poland and Ukraine.
The left-back was awoken at 6am one morning at Italy’s Coverciano training base near Florence to have his room searched by police as he was implicated in the “Calcioscommesse” football-betting affair.
Prandelli could ill-afford any unwanted headlines during the tournament so left behind his first choice left-back and trudged on.
Journalists amused themselves talking of lucky omens as Italy had won the World Cup in 2006 while the “Calciopoli” match-fixing investigation was still on-going and in 1982, they picked up the same prize just two years following “Totonero”.
Yet for all the bravado and searching for a silver-lining around the enveloping storm clouds, few really believed history could repeat itself.
After all just two years previously Italy had made unwanted history by becoming the first defending champions to crash out of the World Cup in the first round – finishing bottom of a group containing minnows New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay.
Italy spoke of modest ambitions, of the need to improve and of being a long way beind the favourites Spain, Germany and Holland.
Yet the Azzurri are used to winning, their four world titles being bettered only by Brazil.
Alongside Germany, Spain and France, they are one of only four European teams to have won the World Cup and European Championships.
This is a country for whom the motto ‘win at all costs’ has sometimes been taken just a little too far, but win they do.
Essentially, despite their quiet humility before the tournament began, the Italian mentality is not one that accepts brave and glorious failure.
And right from the first match against Spain in their group, Italy proved they hadn’t turned up to make the quarter-finals with a bit of luck.
They attacked, took the lead, scored the only goal the Spaniards have conceded thus far and started to build confidence.
That reached its zenith with Thursday’s 2-1 semi-final success against Germany in a match they totally dominated.
They could have run up a rugby score in a wildly open second half when Die Mannschaft pushed forward and proved highly vulnerable to rapier counter-attacks.
Before that game Prandelli insisted there would be no return to the ultra-defensive “catenaccio” of Italy’s past.
Many scoffed at the idea of Italy attacking such a young, vibrant and esteemed Germany side but the Azzurri did exactly that.
And according to Prandelli, it is their belief in their own strengths that has stood them in good stead.
“We always tried to play, that’s our strength. The lads are convinced in what we’ve done in these last few months,” he said.
“We also showed we have the courage to attack Germany right until the end, and to try to take control on the pitch.
“We can do that because we have quality players.”
Not so many people were thinking that before the tournament began but Prandelli’s side have won hearts and minds in Eastern Europe.
Now all that remains is to win the trophy and knock Spain off their perch.
The way things have gone so far, it would take a brave man to bet against Italy.
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