Andrea Barzagli has reiterated the strength of Italy’s “collective” ahead of their Euro 2012 final clash with Spain on Sunday.
The Azzurri will enter the match still flying high from their surprise 2-1 victory of Germany in their semi-final tie, and the Juventus man believes the strong bond within the squad will serve them well against the world and European champions.
Italy struggled ahead of the tournament, with their 3-0 defeat to Russia in their final warm-up game marking the first time the country lost three games in a row for 29 years, but Barzagli believes Cesare Prandelli’s side have what it takes to triumph if they play as a team.
"Our advantage? The collective,” Barzagli told Sky Italia. “We hope we will come out [onto the pitch] to play the game against the champions, as we have already showed.
"Certainly, from the friendly with Russia, we have improved a lot."
However, despite the good will surrounding Italy, fellow finalists Spain are also riding on the crest of a wave following their triumph over Portugal on penalties in midweek, and Barzagli La Roja pose.
"Now there is an even tougher game [that awaits us]; against the champions of everything,” he continued.
"There is some tiredness, but we have played together for a month and we know what to do."
Claudio Marchisio believes the added bonus of restoring Italy's reputation in world football will help spur his country on when they lock horns with Spain in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday.
The domestic game in the country took a significant hit with the recent Scommessopoli scandal and did no favours to the integrity of football on the Italian peninsula.
However, the midfielder is keen to put an end to the negativity that threatened to surround Italy's campaign in Poland and Ukraine by winning the tournament decider against the reigning champions.
"Bringing home the victory would be very important for the entirety of Italian football," Marchisio told Sky Sport Italia. "[Italy coach Cesare] Prandelli did very well to infuse his beliefs both on and off the pitch.
"We can beat Spain because we are a team that has improved game by game.
"Spain are a great team but we are no exception. This match is important, no matter who will take to the field."
Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu has spoken of his admiration for captain Gianluigi Buffon, despite the fact that he is yet to feature at Euro 2012.
The Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper has only been capped twice by the Azzurri, but maintained that he has no qualms about playing second-fiddle to the Juventus goalkeeper.
Buffon has been in inspired form in the European Championship, making a number of key saves, whilst also saving an Ashley Cole penalty in the 4-2 shoot-out victory over England in the quarter-final.
Sirigu insists that Buffon remains a key figure - not only for him as a goalkeeper, but for the entire squad as a leader.
"His most important quality, before being a great player or a great captain, is that Gianluigi [Buffon] is a very down-to-earth man," the 25-year-old told RMC Sport.
"It's nice, he is amiable. He is the person who solves problems, who comforts us, that's a reference point in the group."
Cesare Prandelli's men encounter Spain in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev on Sunday. Kick-off is at 20:45CET
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has revealed his admiration for Spain's style of play during Euro 2012 and dismissed the opinion of critics who have claimed La Roja are boring.
The Azzurri are set to meet Vicente del Bosque's men in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday, but the Spaniards come into the game amidst accusations of lacking penetration during their route to the showpiece.
However, the Italian boss has dismissed the suggestions completely and spoke of other teams' fear of the world and European champions.
"Boring Spain?" He said to reporters. "In fact the other teams are afraid and play defensively against them, but they manage to win in the end anyway, so that hasn't really worked either.
"They are not boring at all."
The debate on the best way to try and counter Spain's 'tika-taka' style remains, but the 54-year-old believes ball retention will be vital to his side's success.
"Our main task tactically will be to recover the ball as soon as possible," he continued.
"Where will we recover the ball it would depend on how Spain play, but our main focus will be closing the spaces to prevent them from playing their game, especially in the middle of the pitch."
At the centre of the Spanish style debate has been their use of Cesc Fabregas as a 'false nine' in a 4-6-0 formation, a ploy they have utilised on several occasions.
Prandelli thinks his opposite number will continue to use the same system and added that playing without an out-and-out forward allows the Spaniards to attack through various other avenues.
"I expect the same Spain, the one that suffocates their rivals, it's a team that doesn't receive goals," he added.
"Even if they play without strikers, they attack you from very deep positions, they are very modern and I like the way they play.
"We will try to adapt to the way they play, whether if they use a number 9 or not."
As for his own tactics, the former Juventus boss is not considering starting a five-man defence but may switch systems during the match should he see it necessary.
He said: "These last few matches we have been able to maintain a balance, so I'm not thinking on changing to a five-back line, it might happen during the match but we won't play that way from the beginning."
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has declared that team-mate Mario Balotelli has improved as a player under coach Cesare Prandelli.
The Manchester City striker turned in an impressive display in Italy's 2-1 victory against Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-finals, scoring two goals to move to the top of the competition's scoring charts.
Prior to the tournament, Balotelli's antics on and off the pitch almost saw him left out of the squad, but Buffon is happy that the 21-year-old is finally showing signs of improvement.
"Mario has been playing very well because before he had all these great qualities, and that is always a good start," Buffon told reporters at a press conference.
"He is also part of a fantastic group of players, and he found a great coach like ours, who has made him a better player.
"But obviously the main merit on his improvement is on himself because he has worked hard to reach this level."
The Azzurri's opponents in Sunday's final, Spain, could have sealed Italy's exit before the knockout stages had they drawn 2-2 with Croatia in their final Group C match.
And Buffon praised La Roja's honesty and quality, adding: "I wanted to pay my respect to Spain because they were honest and did not draw against Croatia to eliminate us.
"Spain's best player? They have so many good players that it is very difficult to state my preference for one.
"It would be a lack of respect to a collective that has dominated the world's football scene in the last 4-6 years. I respect all of them, cannot just say one."
When questioned about Italy's chances, the Juventus goalkeeper acknowledged that Spain are favourites following their recent successes.
"I am very happy that Spain are extremely motivated to play a final after winning a World Cup and Euro 2008," he stated.
"They know now how it is to win and will have a small advantage because of that."
Earlier in the tournament, Buffon cast doubt over Italy's chances of vicotry, but the 34-year-old thinks that his side have improved with each game.
"I said that we would not win the Euros if we kept on playing like we did against Croatia, because we were not able to reflect our superiority in matches," he explained.
"This has obviously changed, but we still have to wait for tomorrow to see if we are good enough to win the tournament."
Gianluigi Buffon has stated that he wants to win Euro 2012 as a reward for Italy fans' loyalty.
Cesare Prandelli's men take on Spain in the competition decider on Sunday, and the Azzurri captain is eyeing glory as a way of repaying the supporters for sticking with the side despite controversies in the game in Italy.
“We are there, lads... We are there, fans... We are there, people,” the veteran Juventus stopper wrote on his Facebook page.
“We are doing it for us, but also for you, who fire me up and take away two hours of every day so I can watch the street celebrations on YouTube.
“For you who never abandoned us, for you who would’ve honoured the shirt the same way we are doing it... but also for The Dream.
“The Dream that I found at the end of July 2011 when reading ‘The Dolphin’ by Sergio Bambaren. But we are still compact and vigil, as nothing has been achieved other than giving dignity and joy back to our country.
“At these moments I like to remember the banner that I read as a child, when I used to collect the Supertifo fanzine and guard it jealously.
“It was written by Foggia fans and read: ‘It is better to suffer so we can rejoice than kid ourselves and die.’
“This is also the reason behind my burst of anger after the Germany game.
“A hug for everyone. AVANTI ITALIA!!!” he concluded.
Cesare Prandelli is a great admirer of Spain's style but insists his side cannot afford to be cowed by their UEFA EURO 2012 final rivals. "We mustn't fear them," he said. "We're here on merit."
Cesare Prandelli recognises that his side must pass a stern examination when they take on Spain in the UEFA EURO 2012 final, but steadfastly believes Italy can emerge triumphant. "We mustn't fear them," he said. "We are here on merit and we will give it everything."
After receiving another standing ovation as he entered the rechristened Sala Prandelli for his final press conference at Casa Azzurri, the Italy coach expressed his satisfaction at masterminding the downfall of Joachim Löw's highly rated Germany side with a 2-1 victory in Warsaw last night.
"We are very proud to have come so far" said the 54-year-old, who first expressed birthday wishes to Gioregio Napoletano, the Italian President who turned 86 today. "It makes you especially proud to represent you country, but when you're abroad I think you understand even more keenly than the people back home exactly what it means to fly the flag. Last night we had a game plan in place and the players executed it to perfection. The guys were extraordinary, we had very little time in training but we exploited what little time we had really well."
Though he admitted his players were exhausted after their efforts in reaching Sunday's final in Kyiv, Prandelli was optimistic about Italy's prospects of overcoming a free-flowing Spain side whose playing style he holds in the highest regard. "I'm hoping to prepare the team well even if we only have one day to do it. Just as we did with Germany we need to try to find their weak points and work on them.
"It won't be easy because Spain have been playing together for years, they won the last EURO and World Cup, and they are in the final again. This means they aren't just technically good, but they also have great moral and personal attributes that make them an example to us all. But we are here too. We have grown as the tournament has gone on."
The Azzurri played Spain in their opening match of the campaign, sharing a spirited 1-1 draw with Vicente del Bosque's side. Then, Antonio Di Natale gave them the lead which was quickly cancelled out by Cesc Fàbregas, and Prandelli believes his players have come on in leaps and bounds since that Group C fixture in Gdansk three weeks ago. "We have improved because since then we've been able to work in the field, work on our physical fitness and, psychologically speaking, now we're now a real side.
"We had a great first half against Spain and we must do that again," recalled Prandelli. "We must keep our balance, that's the secret. If we can distribute our resources in the right way then we have a chance. We need to show the right spirit but we must also have the right ideas. But it's not just about keeping our shape, it's also about attitude. We musn't fear them, we are here on merit, and now we have the desire to take it down to the wire and give it everything we have to win."
Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo has warned his team-mates not to get carried away following their 2-1 victory over Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-finals.
The Azzurri put in an impressive display on Thursday evening to see off Joachim Low's men - who had been tipped as favourites for the match - and join Spain in the final.
Italy have performed well above expectations in Poland and Ukraine, but Pirlo insists it will count for nothing if they fail to go on and win the tournament.
"We have not won anything yet," Pirlo told reporters. "[Not to win] would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope.
"We are convinced that we will have a great match against Spain. But if we want to have a chance to win, we will need to show the same spirit and desire we showed tonight and in the match against England.
"After the 2006 World Cup, we had some problems in the national team because successes were not coming. Now, we have reached the final."
The 33-year-old midfielder also drew parallels between Italy's campaign in Poland and Ukraine and the 2006 World Cup - where they defeated France in the final.
"The feelings are more or less the same," he explained. "There is the same desire to win and also some youngsters who were not in the squad in 2006."
Mario Balotelli said the 2-1 win against Germany was "one of the best nights of my life", but he is hoping it only remains so for another 72 hours as he sets his sights on Spain.
Mario Balotelli was left reflecting on "one of the best nights of my life" after taking his UEFA EURO 2012 tally to three with both Italy's goals in their 2-1 victory over Germany. Yet with the final whistle almost still audible, he and centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli were already setting their sights on Spain in Sunday's final.
Mario Balotelli, Italy forward
A great performance but we suffered a little bit in the end. It could have been prevented, but that's how it goes. The most important thing is the result and that we won. The first goal was from great cross from Antonio [Cassano], while the second came from a fantastic pass by [Riccardo] Montolivo and, well, I shot and scored! There's always been aggressiveness, always the desire to score; maybe I was just missing a bit of luck.
We don't have to fear [Spain] and their ball possession. We have already scored against them, we are as strong as them if not more so. This is one of the best nights of my life but I hope it will be even better against Spain. Spain have another way of playing compared to Germany, but we know our strengths and we are able to play against anyone.
Giorgio Chiellini, Italy defender
It was a great match against a great team. We were really convinced we could play well and win. We've studied Germany's great qualities, but we were convinced we could make it hard for them and we were very good in front of goal, and battling together until the 95th minute. In the end, the margin in terms of the final result was pretty small.
Obviously, I was not in top physical condition. I was a little tired, but I put in my share and I was able to be useful for my team as a physical presence on the pitch. Now we need to improve, because on Sunday we need to be even better. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. We've already faced Spain and we played well. We know they are the favourites to win this tournament, but looking at [how well] we did today, we feel we can beat them.
Andrea Barzagli, Italy defender
We've played an extraordinary game against a very strong side and we deserved to win. We led 2-0 and had opportunities to score a third. Then, well, we suffered a bit during the last two to three minutes, because they're strong; but we should get the credit we deserve. We could have avoided a nervy conclusion to the game but in the end the most important thing is that we won.
Our defence is always well organised. It doesn't matter if someone is absent, because there is [always] someone else who can play; someone who knows what to do, who knows how to put in a great effort. We're a squad full of important players, every one of us. Balotelli did well, but this a team victory; because after all [a team effort] brings out the [quality of an] individual player and he proved to be a strong player. Well, not only him, but the whole team.
Cesare Prandelli congratulated his Italy team after they "bought into" his attacking concept and set up a UEFA EURO 2012 final against Spain with victory against Germany in Warsaw. He reserved special praise for Mario Balotelli, scorer of both Azzurri goals, while Joachim Löw was proud of how his team played in the tournament but admitted Germany gave their semi-final opponents too much of a head start in the first half.
We prepared very well for this game. Of course you need to actually get things right on the day. We knew they were very good on the flanks – we wanted to keep the ball and knock it about in midfield. We took a bit of a risk but got Antonio Cassano on the ball in one-on-ones and that allowed Mario Balotelli to get into space high up the pitch.
Balotelli was excellent just like the entire team were. I really need a team to have an idea, and Balotelli subscribed to this. He was always available, ran high up the pitch and did very well. He was in the game, he was very focused, concentrated and did exactly what I asked of him. I took him off because I saw he was struggling and didn't want to risk him.
I am very proud of these players – I don't want it all to be about me. Germany are a good side, but we have a good idea about how to play the game. We've always tried to play football right from the outset – the players have really bought into what we're trying to do. We tried to play football right from the start against Germany. I always wanted to focus on this style as we have a lot of quality.
We have no time to celebrate, just concentrate on the next game which is the biggest. When you dream, you only dream big – so this is the beginning. Spain are a terrific side, but we will prepare very well like we did tonight. I think it will be an open game and we'll start on a level footing in that respect.