Antonio Conte bets on “chameleon” Italy to upset world no. 2 Belgium

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

LYON, France (AP) Coaching the weakest Italy in recent memory, coach Antonio Conte hopes his side’s “chameleon-like” ability to vary formations and interchange players will be enough to defy their doubters by going far in the European Championship.

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The first test of his focus on flexibility will come on Monday, when Italy faces the world’s second ranked team in Belgium.

“We don’t stay rooted in one formation,” Conte said on Sunday. “We play in different systems both when attacking and defending, so we have got this chameleon-like formation because we have all these tactical formations in mind.”

Conte, who will take over Chelsea next season, is well known for his discipline and focus on tactics.

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A finalist in 2012, this depleted Italy squad is considered to be one of the most uninspiring ever fielded by the four-time World Cup winners.

Longtime midfielder maestro Andrea Pirlo was dropped by Conte, and injuries made Marco Verrati and Claudio Marchisio unavailable.

Equally as important, no replacement has yet to emerge to replace Mario Balotelli or Luca Toni, with a group of ho-hum forwards taking turns up front.

So Conte counts on turning Italy’s weakness of not having any defined outfield stars into a strength by keeping Belgium and other Group E opponents, Sweden and Ireland, guessing.

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He said he will rely on his players’ ability to adapt and switch styles between and during matches.

“We really hope that tomorrow night’s game will be a fantastic match,” he said. “It is important to be warriors, to switch on and put into action everything we have studied.”

Conte used several different lineups and formations in qualifying, swapping out his preferred 3-4-3 for a 4-2-4 when needed, and it paid off with Italy remaining undefeated in 10 matches.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is untouchable, along with defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. They often line up alongside fellow Juventus centerback Andrea Barzagli to form that three-man backline.

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However, Conte might be tempted to add a fourth defender to handle Belgium’s powerful attack led by Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

There is the question of which players will accompany likely starting striker Graziano Pelle.

Besides not revealing his starting 11, Conte kept his training at Italy’s camp in Montpellier closed on Sunday before they traveled to Lyon for their first match.

“As regards a system and starting 11,” he said, “you will see tomorrow night.”