Saturday, 7 June 2008

[Euro 2008] Panucci is ready to go

Christian Panucci is confident of being fit in time for Italy's opening match against the Netherlands on Monday in Berne, despite pulling up with a knee injury in training yesterday.

The Roma full-back was in great spirits as he addressed the press conference at Casa Azzurri, the national team headquarters near Baden-be-Wien in Austria, and explained that he is more excited than ever at the prospect of representing his country.

"I feel a lot better," said Panucci, who is expected to start at right-back.

"Yesterday I felt a little niggle but I knew that it wasn't that serious because it's something that I had earlier in the season. I should be fine to play against Holland because I really want to play.

"I'm not looking to be a hero because I know there are quality players who can play instead of me. My knee's a bit swollen but it should be fine. Today I feel a lot better and I know I've got enough time to recover."

Panucci, who was recalled last autumn after being overlooked by Roberto Donadoni's predecessor Marcello Lippi, is now relishing the experience of being back in the Azzurri fold.

"I said when I was recalled to the national side in October that there was a lot of cohesion in the team. It was a very united group, and I realised why they had won the World Cup.

"Hopefully, we can keep that same team spirit here. This is a very complete national side. It has experienced players – players who have won things, players who have great talent. We have a great mix. I hope I can play my part too.

"I really appreciate this chance as I think it'll be my last and I'm hoping to play in six matches that will leave me with great memories. I'm enjoying every day. I'm as excited as a little boy and I'm desperate to do well. That's the most important thing. I hope it only comes to an end on 29 June."

Meanwhile, as the most capped current player after Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Del Piero has been chosen to succeed Italy's injured captain.

"I'm absolutely delighted to be captain," said the 33-year-old. "Even though events conspired against Cannavaro, I'm absolutely delighted to have been given this role because for a footballer it's the ultimate honour to play for your country and to be made captain is even greater - it's fantastic. The build-up to every major tournament is always very different but I feel a lot more relaxed this time around."

A veteran of seven major tournaments, Del Piero has played in a variety of Azzurri sides but feels this one has benefited from players, such as Luca Toni, Fabio Grosso and Gianluca Zambrotta, gaining experience with overseas clubs.

"Playing in other leagues helps players mature and has given them an insight into foreign players, which is a huge plus for us," he said. "Winning the World Cup has also given us great inner strength, but success depends on the hunger and motivation you take into your matches."

Source: UEFA

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