MONTPELLIER: Italy’s Mattia De Sciglio remembers watching Italy suffer joy and heartbreak at major finals, but he is hoping to play a role when the Azzurri bid to book their Euro 2016 semi-final spot against Germany on Saturday.
AC Milan midfielder De Sciglio was only a teenager when he watched Italy upset pre-tournament predictions to beat France in the final of the 2006 World Cup.
Six years later, he was on holiday — “probably in Ibiza” — when Spain broke Italian hearts in Kiev after a 4-0 rout in the final of Euro 2012.
But two years after the humbling experience of a second successive first-round exit from the World Cup, Italy are again defying expectations to reach the last eight — and De Sciglio has been given a key role to play.
Antonio Conte’s men face Germany less than a week after an impressive 2-0 win over two-time holders Spain, but without midfielders Daniele De Rossi (thigh) and Thiago Motta (suspension).
It has given De Sciglio a chance to play “the biggest match” of his fledgling Italy career, and although respectful of Joachim Loew’s men, the 23-year-old believes he can help keep the Italian ‘tifosi’ (fans) dreaming.
“It will be an even more complicated match because, physically, they’re better than Spain,” De Sciglio said.
“They have a different style of play and we’re probably going to suffer a bit more, but if we prepare well and believe in ourselves we can cause them problems.
“We don’t have star players, so we have to work together, help each other and try to leave everything out there.”
Italy, whose midfield has been decimated by the loss of Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio to injury and the non-selection of Andrea Pirlo, have been playing to their strengths as a collective at Euro 2016, a strategy that is paying dividends.
– ‘Champions to losers’ –
After Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini’s first-half strike against Spain, Italy restricted the holders to only a few chances before Southampton striker Graziano Pelle wrapped up the win at the death.
It confirmed Italy’s status as bona fide title contenders, and De Sciglio as a potential star of Conte’s emerging Azzurri team.
“I think I played well (against Spain) just like everyone else did,” he said modestly.
“It’s one of the best matches we’ve played. Spain were stronger than us but we wanted it more.
“I’ve been going through a really positive period the past few months, and I’m enjoying it because you can go from being champions one day to being losers the next.”
And as he looks back on Italy’s past exploits and failures, he hopes an “emotional” encounter will go the Azzurri’s way.
“In 2006 I was 13 (years old) and I was at a friend’s house to watch the final. I remember a really tense match but when Fabio Grosso scored the decisive penalty we just about wrecked the house!
“In 2012 I was on holiday, in Ibiza I think. Germany were strong even back then. It was the same generation (of players).”
Astonishingly, Germany have never beaten Italy in eight previous encounters at a major finals.
That could all change in Bordeaux on Saturday, but De Sciglio says he can’t wait to pull on the Italy jersey.
“It’s going to be emotional, as it was against Spain. It will be the biggest match of my career, so I’m very proud,” he said.
“We’d do everything to score a repeat against Germany.”