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Conte warns over Croatia, Norway danger

29 March 2015, 14:29

Milan - Italy coach Antonio Conte admits the Azzurri could be pushed all the way by Croatia and Norway as they look to secure one of the top two places from Group H in qualifying for the 2016 European Championships.

World Cup flops Italy had to settle for a 2-2 draw away to Bulgaria in their fifth match, a result which left them in second place at two points behind leaders Croatia.

Italy remain unbeaten but with Norway in third place at just two points adrift, Conte said after Saturday's draw in Sofia: "We'll be pushed all the way for qualification from the group by Croatia and Norway.

"But I'm not surprised at all about Croatia topping the group. In many aspects they're currently stronger than us."

Although Italy will be expected to achieve qualification from a Group H which also includes Azerbaijan and Malta, the big test of their European credentials could come on Tuesday when they host England for a friendly in Turin.

Also read: Conte primes Juve-inspired Italy for Bulgaria

England travel to Italy on the back of a one-sided 4-0 win over Euro 2016 Group E rivals Lithuania, in which Tottenham sensation Harry Kane scored only 80 seconds after coming off the bench to make his England debut.

With Danny Welbeck sidelined with a knee injury and Daniel Sturridge succumbing to a hip problem, Kane is in contention to start alongside England's only other fit striker, Wayne Rooney, at Juventus Stadium.

Group E leaders England are expected to prove to be a more difficult opponent than Bulgaria, but Conte insists he will be using the occasion to further test the players he has recently drafted into his squad.

"Tonight's game was more important because we needed the points," added Conte when asked about Tuesday's game.

"In Turin I will also try out some of the players I called up to the squad."

Recent call-up Eder, an attacking midfielder with Sampdoria, emerged as the star of Saturday's draw in Sofia, the Brazil-born forward hitting a late leveller on his debut to secure a share of the points.

Conte's decision to call up Eder and Argentinian-born Palermo player Franco Vazquez last week reignited the debate about the role of 'oriundi' -- players born outside Italy to families who originally emigrated from the country.

Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini notably claimed only Italy-born players should wear the Azzurro shirt.

But Eder said: "I'm sorry about the remarks Mancini made. I respect him and respect his opinion, but all the talk about the oriundi is pointless because everyone has his own opinion.

"I'm proud to have worn such an important jersey as this... it's not a stopgap shirt for me. It's not easy to earn a place in this squad and I hope to be given my chance again in the future."

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