Italy cruised through the group phase of Euro 2020 with three victories but head coach Roberto Mancini will press reset for the knockout stage.
Mancini’s side scored seven times and did not concede – equalling their previous best defensive record of 1980 – but the former Manchester City and Inter Milan boss believes that will count for little as they face Austria in the last 16.
“Now another tournament begins. If the boys continue to play like they are doing, I’m happy – that’s all I ask for,” he said at a press conference.
Mancini has a big call to make in midfield as Marco Verratti returned from a knee injury to replace Manuel Locatelli, who scored twice in the win over Switzerland, for the final group win over Wales.
“Verratti or Locatelli? Someone good will not play,” was the Italian coach’s response when asked about his selection dilemma.
Paris St Germain midfielder Verratti was delighted to get his tournament up and running.
“It was definitely emotional. I’m happy to be back doing what I love most, playing football,” he said.
“This tournament is really important for us. Representing Italy in tournaments like this is really special.
“It will be a very difficult game (against Austria) because it’s the last 16 – there are no easy matches at this stage.
“We saw it with the Germany versus Hungary game. Germany were out with 10 minutes to go. These teams fight on the pitch, which is how it should be.
“We need to continue to play the way we have. If we play with the same intent, desire and courage we have shown so far we can have a great match.”
Austria, who have made the knockout stage for the first time, are the outsiders against Italy.
Coach Franco Foda accepts the odds of success are slim against a side who have played themselves into the role of genuine contenders.
“The chance may only be a few per cent, but you can achieve a lot in life with a few per cent,” he told euro2020.com.
“We have achieved something extraordinary. There’s huge excitement.
“Italy have extreme quality, especially in defence, they get forward quickly when they win the ball and have really improved their positioning – but we have a plan.”