Workmanlike mentality gives Italy hope against Belgium

Sat Jun 11, 2016 10:28pm EDT
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By John Irish

LYON, France (Reuters) - Plagued by injuries to his creative midfielders and without a talisman up front, Italy coach Antonio Conte is banking on a workmanlike team full of energy to outfox Belgium's exciting young forwards when they meet on Monday.

The Euro 2016 Group E match comes ahead of tough encounters against Ireland and Sweden giving neither side much respite should they lose the first game in Lyon.

Once famed for their "catenaccio", a tactical system with an emphasis on a strong defensive unit, Italy come to the tournament with arguably their weakest team for years and conceding goals particularly against top teams.

They face a Belgium side with a talented squad tipped by some to go one better than the golden generation that finished as tournament runners up in 1980.

Despite opening the scoring, the Italians were beaten comfortably 3-1 by Belgium in a November friendly.

Conte, who joins Chelsea after the tournament, is known for his motivational skills, team unity and tactical flexibility, although a tendency to tinker has led to mixed results since 2014.

"You need to sacrifice yourself for the team," Conte recently said in an interview. "The team isn't a single person."

His best midfielders Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio are both ruled out through injury.   Continued...

Italy's Graziano Pelle and team mates during training.  REUTERS/Yves Herman