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EURO 2016

FOOTBALL

Conte wary as Italy draw tough group at Euro 2016

Italy coach Antonio Conte said his side won't expect an easy ride at next summer's Euro 2016 in France after being drawn in Group B with Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.

Conte wary as Italy draw tough group at Euro 2016
Italy's coach Antonio Conte before the start of the final draw of the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament in Paris. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Four years after losing 4-0 to Spain in the final, the Azzurri will face Belgium in Lyon on June 13, before hosting Sweden four days later in Toulouse and Ireland on June 22 in Lille.

Conte saw his side overcome a few ups and downs to secure qualification with a game to spare, but the Italian — who succeeded Cesare Prandelli after last summer's disastrous World Cup — already sees trouble ahead.

“Belgium are an excellent team, I think they will be among the favourites for the final stages,” said Conte, whose side lost 3-1 to Marc Wilmots' men in Brussels last month.

Italy fans will also remember the last time they came up against Sweden in the tournament.

It was 2004 and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit an 85th minute equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw and rob the Azzurri of a possible three points in their penultimate group game.

Despite a subsequent 2-1 win over Bulgaria, Italy were left third in Group C and on their way home as Sweden and Denmark, who drew their final game 2-2, advanced due to a better head-to-head record.

“We all know about the strength of Zlatan,” said Conte.

Paris Saint Germain striker Ibrahimovic was not part of the Sweden side that lost 1-0 to Italy in a November 2009 friendly, when Giorgio Chiellini provided the winner.

Italy won eight of their 13 previous games against the Republic of Ireland, including a 2-0 win in Poznan on their way to the Euro 2012 final against Spain.

In the sides' only meeting since then they played to a scoreless draw at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground in May 2014.

Conte added: “And Ireland are certainly a team who play with a lot of emotion.”

FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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