Conte wants changed Italy team to keep foot on the pedal
LILLE (Reuters) - Italy coach Antonio Conte believes his side can maintain its winning momentum even when he makes changes to his starting XI against an Ireland team driven by desperation in Lille on Wednesday.
Not since Euro 2000 when they reached the final have Italy prevailed in their opening three group games and Conte has his sights firmly set on continuing the winning run.
"I will make changes but I don't know how many," Conte said in Tuesday's news conference. "This is a game where those that have played less can take part in.
"In any case, I don't expect our approach to change. There are no starters or reserves in this team, only 23 players and a coaching staff that win and lose together.
"We are very focused, this is an important game for us."
Italy, who lost to Spain in the final four years ago, have already secured top spot in Group E after beating Belgium 2-0 and Sweden 1-0.
A last-16 clash on June 27 in Paris with the runners-up in Group D awaits Conte's men. Ireland must win to have any chance of progressing as the second or third-place team in the pool.
"For them this is going to be the game of their lives," Conte said. "Ireland has important qualities and we cannot forget that this side beat Germany in qualifying.
"However, we don't want to give a bad image. We want to win this game because it would be a big boost in confidence."
Despite a lack of star players, Italy have looked solid in France and have yet to concede a goal. Conte does not want his players to relax.
"We cannot forget our defects," he said. "We did start this journey in the right way but we cannot lose our way. The fact that we have qualified doesn't mean anything."
Salvatore Sirigu is set to start in goal with veteran captain Gianluigi Buffon, who has struggled with a fever since Saturday, unlikely to feature against Ireland.
"He hasn't been well and only returned to the group today," Conte said. "We hope he's recovered soon."
Lazio winger Antonio Candreva, who sustained a right adductor injury against Sweden, is also set to be on the substitutes' bench.
(Reporting by Adriana Garcia; editing by Ian Chadband)