Antonio Conte claimed Italy can “do great things” at Euro 2016 after they swatted aside Belgium 2-0 in their Group E opener.
Spectacular strikes from Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle sank a disappointing Belgian side and proved Italy mean business in France.
“I’ve been repeating from the beginning – and I’m not one to tell lies – that this is a group first and foremost of men, and then footballers,” Italy coach Conte told UEFA.com.
“That’s important because in a tournament like this you need an alchemy of people who get on well together, and the biggest satisfaction for me tonight is to see how happy they all were, including those on the bench. There’s a very good spirit in this squad.
“We have big intentions and our objective remains the same, to get into the last 16. The objective is to get where we deserve to be, without any regrets. I think the fans are pleased when they see 23 footballers giving everything on the field and who are willing to spit blood.
“I cannot deny that I was very, very emotional – to be coach of a country in such a big tournament doesn’t happen every day.
“It’s something unique for the lads to wear this shirt, but I’d like to say also that with this unity of intention, we can do great things.”
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Giaccherini has hardly set the world alight in three years at Sunderland – and spent last season on loan at Serie A Bologna – but he ignited Italy’s bid for European glory.
In the 32nd minute the winger dispatched a sublime ball over the top from Leonardo Bonucci, controlling the ball with his left foot before clinically beating Thibaut Courtois with his right.
Southampton striker Pelle added a second in stoppage time with a well-taken volley from Antonio Candreva’s cross.
Belgium’s big names failed to spark with Romelu Lukaku enduring a torrid evening, missing their best chance when he lifted the ball over Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon but wide of a gaping goal.
“Lukaku didn’t have a great night and (Kevin) De Bruyne can do better too, but now is not the time to talk about that,” said coach Marc Wilmots.
“We now need to club together to qualify for the last 16.
“If you make mistakes at this level, you pay dearly. But nothing is lost. We’ve got two games to reach the knockout stage, which is the aim when you are in the group, and that is what we are going to try to do.”