ITALY star Christian Panucci is adamant age will not get the better of him as he continues his Euro 2008 adventure in the quarter-final against Spain in Vienna tomorrow night (7.45pm).
Should the 35-year-old defender feature for the Azzurri, he will be playing his fourth game in 14 days at the tournament.
Panucci has been one of Italy’s top performers, scoring their only goal in a 1-1 draw with Romania and playing a key role in the 2-0 win over France which saw his side advance from the so-called “Group of Death”, and he insists he is ready to keep going.
“I’ve recovered really well. Physically, I feel great the day before a match,” he said.
“I’m very happy about that. At my age I feel really, really good. I think this will be my final big competition with the national team, which provides more motivation.”
Despite the slow start, when the world champions were comprehensively routed 3-0 by Holland, Italy have slowly recovered and now face a side who have not beaten them in a competitive game since the 1920s.
And despite Spain’s good form so far in the tournament, Panucci believes the changes made by coach Roberto Donadoni since Italy’s opening game stand them in good stead to keep that record going.
“I’m convinced Italy will go through. Donadoni has decided to change everything after that first game. We now have the state of mind of a strong team.”
The Roma defender also warned that Italy would not be unnerved by the attacking duo of David Villa and Fernando Torres, who between them have scored five of Spain’s eight tournament goals so far.
“Torres and Villa are strong. That’s obvious,” he said. “But Benzema and Henry were supposed to be a strong strikeforce, and look what happened there.
“(Giorgio) Chiellini and myself are doing really well at the back, and I think he will be one of the best defenders in the world very soon.”
Meanwhile, Spain midfielder Ruben de la Red insists the Iberians have no fear of Italy even though they boast a dismal record in competitive matches against them over the years.
“I am sure that Italy are the favourites because since 1920 they have always beaten us in official games, but the squad is convinced that we can continue winning and reach the final,” said De la Red, who scored his first goal for Spain during Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Greece.
“We are in very good form, with a potent attack, a skilful midfield and a strong defence. They are the world champions but there is no fear here. As well as that, we beat them in a friendly before the European Championships, and for these two national teams there’s no such thing as friendly matches.”
Injured Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro believes Spain hold the edge going into the game.
“I think that Spain are favourites, they are the team who are playing best,” he said.
“They have players of much quality and with a lot of desire. It is going to be very difficult.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved