With the national team currently on a training camp in Austria, the friendly match between Italy – one of the finalists of the EURO 2016 which kicks-off next month – and Scotland takes centre stage on Sunday. The venue will be the National Stadium and kick-off time is 20:45.
This game will be the first of three matches for Italy on the eve of the EURO 2016 where they will be facing Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Since playing their last game in the European Qualifiers when they had defeated Norway 2-1 to win Group H, their performance was far from impressive. They lost 3-1 to Belgium, were held in a 2-2 draw by Romania, drew 1-1 with Spain and lost 4-1 to Germany.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Italy coach Antonio Conte said “I am keen to get some clear answers from this match that will verify the work we have done over the past days. I have to do away with some doubts. I have been working daily with the players over the past days, trying to get the best out of them. They worked hard.”
When asked whether the team was only now showing its true colours, Conte replied “My ideas regarding the team have been seen over the past two years. The team always had its identity.”
Conte revealed that Thiago Motta and Riccardo Montolivo are on the way to regaining full fitness but stressed he would not risk playing them on Sunday. As regards Daniele De Rossi, the Italy coach said that he was worried about his problems with the Achilles’ tendon but could feature in the friendly game against Scotland.
Missing out on EURO 2016 was a massive blow for Scotland, also considering that all other British nations made it to the finals. Since then, the Scottish FA embarked on a project to revamp the national team and last March, they played two friendly matches with two completely different teams, winning both games 1-0 against the Czech Republic and Denmark.
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said that this game was the first important test ahead of the EURO as it should give an indication of the work done. He agreed that unlike other EURO or World Cup campaigns, Italy were not considered as one of the favourites.
“This is definitely a very different situations as expectations are not high and maybe people are right. Hopefully this will help us find the motivation and courage to surprise,” said Buffon.
Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher said that failing to qualify for the EURO was a massive disappointment but said that now that was history and the team is heading in the right direction. He said that with the confirmation of Gordon Strachan, there was the continuity everyone wanted. The Scotland coach, who has been leading the team since January 2013 said it was not difficult to decide to stay since there was a good mix of experience and young players at his disposal.
Scotland face Italy at the same venue where in three months’ time, they will face Malta in the first match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2016. Strachan said that this game against Italy and the next one against France on June 4 will be a very good test for the team ahead of the qualifiers as he said the group features some teams which are difficult to beat.
“Some new players are coming up and playing against top sides is the best way to see where they stand,” said Gordon Strachan. “It would have been easier to take on lesser teams but only in this way, the players could learn something and gain experience.”
Scottish captain Darren Fletcher, who is now playing for West Bromwich Albion following a long career with Manchester United, said he was very impressed with the younger players in the Scottish squad, adding that prospects for the future were fantastic.
Fletcher argued that it was easier to play such “glamour friendlies” against two top nations like Italy and France. “Motivation is greater and as a player you want to play against top players and impress the manager.”
Scotland beat Italy just once in ten matches – 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier in 1965. Italy won seven matches with the other two ending in draws. The last meeting between the two teams was in November 2007 when Italy defeated Scotland 2-1 away from home.