No Euro gift for Norway, says Italy's Conte

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Italy coach Antonio Conte. Photo: Fredrik Varfjell/AFP
07:20 CEST+02:00
Italy are chasing a seventh win in 10 Euro 2016 qualifiers when they host Norway in Rome on Tuesday hoping to seal the top spot in their group, their coach Antonio Conte has warned.

Italy, the beaten finalists at Euro 2012, qualified for next summer's showpiece in France thanks to a one-sided 3-1 win in Azerbaijan complete with goals from Eder, Stephan El Shaarawy and Matteo Darmian on Saturday.

The win left Italy top of Group H with a two-point cushion on Norway, who they face in their final qualifier in Rome.

But any thoughts Italy might take it easy at the Stadio Olimpico were quickly dispelled by Conte after a win that provided further evidence the Azzurri, after first round exits at the last two World Cups, may have turned
the corner.

"We will give Norway our utmost respect: in Rome it will be a great game," said Conte.

Despite a few jitters, Italy dominated Robert Prosinecki's men and should have added more to their goals tally in Baku.

But producing a repeat on Tuesday could prove more difficult, especially with Norway yet to seal qualification for next summer's finals in France.

Per-Mathias Hogmo's men maintained second spot thanks to a patchy 2-0 win over Malta, but Croatia's 3-0 rout of Bulgaria means they sit only two points behind in third place.

To secure the second of two automatic qualifying spots Norway need to beat Italy for the first time since 2000, when current Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Conte, playing midfield, were on the end of a 1-0 defeat in Oslo.

Complicating matters for the visitors is the fact Croatia will be heavily tipped to claim an away win at Malta, who sit bottom of the group with just two points from nine games.

A Norway draw with Italy, combined with a Croatia win in Malta would see both sides finish on 20 points, although Croatia would finish in second place because they have scored more goals in direct fixtures between the sides.

Earlier in the campaign, Croatia beat Norway 5-1 in Zagreb and Norway beat Croatia 2-0 in Oslo.

Most of which should be of minor concern to Conte, who is intent on using Tuesday's qualifier as another stepping stone towards building what he terms his "little war machine" for next summer's tournament.

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After two consecutive World Cup washouts, Italy, the four-time world champions, may no longer instill fear like they used to.

But Italy's rejuvenated side has given Conte an extra swagger.

"For France 2016 we're not among the favourites, and I can't tell you whether in Europe we're among the top four, the top six or the top 18," said the former Juventus handler.

"We're still growing as a squad and we still have plenty of work to do. But we're hoping to build our own little war machine."

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