Italy flagWorld Soccer: You have said that you think it may benefit Italy to play Spain in the opening game. Why is that?

Cesare Prandelli: They are undoubtedly the strongest team of the moment, with a whole fleet of class players. Maybe we are lucky that we have to play them first, that way my players will understand what it means to be playing in the European Championship finals. We’ve got to arrive absolutely ready for that first game.

Inevitably, much Italian media attention has focused on your third game with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland. How do you see that going?

[Laughing] I don’t even want to name him or it will bring me bad luck! As soon as you mention his name, he pops up to lay some sort of trap for you! In truth, though, it will be an honour and a pleasure to meet Ireland and Trap. I feel very linked to him, he was my coach at Juventus for six years. For me, he’s a reference point and not just from the viewpoint of football technique. Trap’s Ireland will make everyone struggle, us included. We have to start off with that in mind, otherwise the game will be very, very difficult. Trap will be a very awkward customer, absolutely.

Is it true that when you played for Trap he kept telling you to drop back in defence?

Football lives by cliches and labels. In the 1980s Trap had Platini, Boniek, Rossi and Bettega in the same [Juventus] team: two strikers and two attacking midfielders. Obviously, if the other players then go up in attack, well then Trap is going to whistle at me in order to keep the team balanced. But it’s absurd to depict Trap as a defensive coach. History shows that he fielded teams that were very, very offensive. Maybe in the final minutes of a game he would maintain a certain balance just to wrap up the result.

And what about the fourth side in your group, Croatia?

As soon as the draw was made everybody was asking me about the games against Spain and Ireland, but my suspicion is that the game against Croatia could be our most important one. Firstly, because it will be our second game and that is the game that nearly always decides everything in the first round of a tournament. Secondly, because I know Croatia, I know [coach Slaven] Bilic. I am familiar with his work. This is a team which has terrific technique in its DNA, with lots of good players, and for that reason I see this as our most difficult game.

What is the situation with Mario Balotelli? You left him out of the squad for the USA friendly for disciplinary reasons. What does this mean?

I only know one way to develop a team, a squad: you lay down certain rules. The players who have been with me in the Italian squad over the last two years know our rules and regulations. However, in my head, Balotelli is a first-choice player. But this is a moment when he has to show that he has the personality and the capacity to handle the sort of pressure that he is under.

Giuseppe Rossi is definitely out, but what about your other injured striker, Antonio Cassano?

It is a great pity about Rossi, we shall certainly miss him, but I will wait until May for Cassano because he too is
an important element in the side that qualified for these finals. They’re two players who offer a lot.

Many critics argue that your Italy plays a much more attacking, less typically defensive Italian game. Was that your intention from the outset?

Well, we started off with the idea of involving the players in just how we would play. Many of them felt that the time had come to play – I won’t say a different type of game because, in football, there is nothing new – but something else. Given that I have plenty of quality midfielders I felt we should play to our strengths, and with these players that means playing a much
more attacking game.

All in all, how do you view the finals?

Right now, I have very positive feelings about Euro 2012. There’s plenty of time up ahead to get worried about things.

Interview by Paddy Agnew