Antonio Conte: Zlatan Ibramhimovic will be Manchester United star

Italy coach Antonio Conte believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a hit in the Premier League – and says moving to England has turned Graziano Pelle into an international striker.
Antonio Conte: Zlatan Ibramhimovic will be Manchester United star

Conte, who will take over at Chelsea after Euro 2016, is up against Ibrahimovic and his team-mates when Italy face Sweden in Toulouse today.

And with the big Swedish striker expected to join Manchester United this summer, Conte believes he will make an impact in the Premier League. “I think Zlatan is a great player, a top player, and he could play in any league in the world.

“I see no reason why he couldn’t make an impact anywhere. He’s a terrific player. Sweden are a decent side with a true superstar so we have to be very careful.”

But Conte has his own star in Southampton striker Pelle, who scored a stunning goal against Belgium on Monday. Pelle, 30, was a late starter to international football, making his debut less than two years ago, after joining Saints from Feyenoord.

Now he is leading Italy’s attack, and Conte said: “Graziano has had an interesting path. He had to go abroad to break into the national side. In Italy, he wasn’t playing much. He was always on the bench at Parma before moving to Holland. Clearly, coming up against different players in different leagues, and working very hard, has helped turn him into an excellent forward with terrific physical attributes. It’s a little odd he had to move abroad to make his name - the opposite is often true, but he took a different route and it’s worked for him.

“I’m happy for him because it shows taking on challenges helps in life. Moving abroad has been the making of him.”

Meanwhile Italy midfielder Alessandro Florenzi believes their critics have underestimated the strength of the squad and he will be more than happy to see them “eat their words” again.

Their 2-0 win over one of the favourites Belgium in Euro 2016 Group D was a masterclass in defending and picking the moment to strike. The result may have surprised some but Florenzi insists it proves the Italians have been wrongly overlooked.

“This means perhaps we aren’t the inadequate squad lacking skilful players some newspapers suggested before the tournament,” said the Roma midfielder.

“After the Belgium result, a lot of them have been eating their words. We need to think about action and we’ll leave the talking to others.”

In terms of underachievement today’s opponents Sweden’s talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performance against the Ireland was up there. However, Lazio midfielder Antonio Candreva knows they have to be wary of the enigmatic striker.

“He’s a great champion”, a fantastic player and he can hurt us all on his own,” he told a press conference.

“But we have to play our own game, albeit with certain adaptations to counter their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses.”

Victory would put Italy through to the knockout stage but Candreva admits recent experience has taught them not to get ahead of themselves.

“We still have to get through, making calculations now is wrong,” he added.

“We remember what happened at the World Cup in Brazil when we were knocked out after winning the first game.”

Italy’s opening match performance has certainly made Sweden sit up and take notice. “Italy are stronger than we expected,” said Hamburg midfielder Albin Ekdal.

“First we thought Belgium were the best side in the group but now I have changed my mind. Italy put in a great performance in Lyon.

“They seemed very concentrated and disciplined, above all in defence.

“I am worried, as a very difficult match awaits us.”

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