Baku, June 23, AZERTAC
As four-time FIFA World Cup winners, Italy typically enter major football tournaments among the favourites. But when the Baku 2015 Beach Soccer tournament gets underway on Wednesday, it will be a different story.
World no.11 on the sand, Italy have been drawn in the same group as world no.1 Russia and world no.5 Spain and face a difficult task to qualify for the semi-finals as one of the top two teams in their group.
Italy coach Massimiliano Esposito is aware of the challenge his side faces in the ‘group of death’ but after winning all three matches in Euro Beach Soccer 2015 qualification in Moscow earlier this month, he says the Azzurri are well prepared.
"The team is ready from a physical, tactical and technical point of view," said Esposito, a former Serie A player with Lazio, Napoli and Brescia.
"Maybe the players will suffer from some fears. Emotion can be a dirty trick and it could affect us and Spain too. My job here is to let them understand that this is a game and emotions should go, leaving only strength and focus on the game."
If the no.5 ranked team in Europe can control their emotions, Esposito said the podium is not out of the question.
"We want to bring a medal home," he said. "We are aware that we are playing in an 'iron group' (group of death) with Spain and Russia as top teams in the world for this discipline, but this is what I say to my guys: 'Fear none, respect all'."
All of the eight teams are bringing their top sides to Baku as a precursor to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Portugal next month, and Italy captain Francesco Corosiniti is quietly confident.
"Russia are the strongest team in the world and favourites to win," he said. "Spain are the other top contenders, but we don't consider ourselves out. We are aware how difficult it will be, but our goal is to come back home with a medal."
Italy's first match is against Spain at 16:00 on Wednesday at the Beach Arena.