Thursday, 28 February 2008

Donadoni managing great expectations

Replacing World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi was never going to be easy, but Roberto Donadoni has risen to the challenge in style.

Now, having guided the Azzurri through a difficult qualifying campaign, the stakes are higher than ever as the 44-year-old aims to emulate his predecessor and win Euro 2008.

"It's never easy when everybody has such great expectations," Donadoni told the UEFA website.

"The team, however, responded perfectly in all respects. When I took the job I inherited a group of top-level players and a very good coaching staff who gave me a great support. Everything went well after that."

Donadoni, though, is fully aware that the praise he earned during qualifying will soon be forgotten should Italy fall flat in Switzerland and Austria.

"You start from zero again," he said. "Qualifying is history and will not give us any advantage in the finals. At every stage we have to measure ourselves up against our opponents who will try to cause us trouble. There is nothing new about that. We just need to have the right determination."

Donadoni could be forgiven for the thinking the gods are conspiring against him after the Azzurri were drawn alongside the Netherlands, France (again) and Romania in Group C.

He knows everything will have to go right in the build up to Italy's first match against the Netherlands on 9 June in Berne if his side are to get their hands on more silverware this summer.

"My wish? I think it's quite obvious. I would like to have a team in good athletic condition. This is my biggest worry ahead of the finals. After that it doesn't make much difference if you face France, the Netherlands or Austria. If you have a team in the best physical condition you can play any opponent without fear."

That is thanks to the talent the former AC Milan and Azzurri midfielder has at his disposal, despite talismans Alessandro Nesta and Francesco Totti retiring from international football after the World Cup.

Donadoni's priority is ensuring he gets the best out of that talent. "When you reach the finals the most important thing is the mental condition of the players and the coaches," he said.

"Obviously the main actors are the players and it's important they reach the finals without suffering injuries or without being too tired. That's crucial if you want to play at your best in a tournament like the European Championships or the World Cup."

After cheering their side on to victory in Berlin two years ago, Azzurri fans expect nothing less when the tournament kicks off in exactly 100 days time.


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