Pierluigi Casiraghi is well aware that failure to beat Portugal in the Olympic play-off could see him fired as Italy Under-21 coach.
The Azzurrini have the opportunity to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Thursday evening, but many of the players won’t be eligible as they will be over-age by the time the tournament rolls around.
"I expect the lads to repeat the performance they put in against the Czech Republic," insisted the tactician of their 3-1 win. "I am putting my faith in every one of them, whether they could be part of the Olympic squad or not.
"I am convinced nobody has relaxed, as they are professionals and will play with the right attitude, no matter what their situation."
Casiraghi’s job is in the balance, as after failing to get past the group phase in the European Under-21 Championship, missing out on Olympic qualification for the first time since 1984 would be viewed as a disaster.
"The pressure is inevitable, as that comes with the focus that is created by this competition," noted a calm Casiraghi. "I am concerned about Portugal, as they are a different side to the ones we faced in the group phase. They have more technical quality and a style of football similar to ours."
Although this play-off is outside of the European Championship, it will be a crucial turning point for the Under-21 side.
"It will be a Final and that is how we will play it. Neither team starts as a favourite, as statistics and figures mean very little once you get on the pitch."
Meanwhile, the Italy squad invited a 13-year-old Dutch fan to their training ground today with a rather sheepish apology from Alberto Aquilani.
The fan was in the stands during the 2-2 draw with England last week and a powerful free kick by the Roma midfielder accidentally fractured the little boy’s wrist.
Denzel Westenberg had no hard feelings, as he wore an Aquilani shirt and the entire squad signed it for him. He also met with Coach Casiraghi and consultant Gianfranco Zola with an invite to the play-off against Portugal.
Denzel’s wrist will be in plaster for six weeks.
Source: C4 Football Italia