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‘Youth holds the key to Italy’s future’

By Reuters - Sep 10,2014 - Last updated at Sep 10,2014

OSLO — Young players hold the key to Italy’s future, said coach Antonio Conte after his side played an “almost perfect game” to beat Norway 2-0 in their opening Euro 2016 Group H qualifier on Tuesday.

Goals from Simone Zaza and captain Leonardo Bonucci gave Conte a comfortable victory in his first competitive match in charge, after replacing Cesare Prandelli following the World Cup.

The performance of Sassuolo’s 23-year-old striker Zaza, who opened the scoring after 16 minutes, caught the eye and Conte said he intends to build his team around young and hungry players.

“We played an almost perfect game, the kind of game I dreamed of,” the coach told a news conference.

“This is a new group of players I’m working with and there are many young players...

“Both Zaza and Ciro [Immobile] are modern attackers... but like everyone else, they can get better. We chose to play with 23, 24 year olds, and the performance tonight shows that they are our present and our future,” he added.

Conte also challenged those players outside the squad, such as suspended striker Mario Balotelli, to prove that they could do as well as the less-heralded side that picked up three points in Oslo.

“Nothing goes backwards in football, Conte said, when asked about Balotelli.

“I want hungry players, team players and team spirit. That’s what makes players perform better. I want players who are hungry, not players who are admired.”

The 45-year-old Conte, who took over the reins from Prandelli after Italy failed to make it past the group stage in Brazil, explained the difference between his philosophy and that of his predecessor.

“We hold the ball within the team and wait for openings,” he said. “It’s not tiki-taka football, but it is possession football and we played it very well tonight against a team that pressed us high.”

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