Lippi says team spirit carried Azzurri through

July 1, 2006

HAMBURG, July 1 (Reuters) - Italy are in the World Cup semi-finals where they face Germany after scoring nine goals and conceding just one in five matches but it is team spirit rather than statistics that gives coach Marcello Lippi confidence.

Friday's 3-0 win over Ukraine extended the Azzurri's unbeaten run to 23 matches and they have not been beaten since a loss to Slovenia in a World Cup qualifier in October 2004.

Every outfield player in Lippi's squad has had a taste of the tournament and eight of them have a goal under their belts.

Now the Italians are one win away from keeping their curious record of reaching the World Cup final every 12 years since 1970.

It is not the raw data that impresses Lippi, however. The silver-haired tactician's confidence comes from the mood within his squad.

'I am extremely proud because this team has an incredible character and spirit, they have coped so well with a lot of injuries and changes to the team,' said Lippi.

'They are an incredible bunch of lads and everything is possible now. We need to try with all our hearts -- it has worked for us so far,' added the Italy coach.

Statistics alone would make the Italians, who beat Germany 4-1 in a friendly on March 1 in Florence, clear favourites for a place in the final, but what the results do not show is that the Azzurri have had the easiest of routes to the last four.

They have also struggled at times against relatively modest opposition.

Italy topped group E thanks to a 2-0 win over Ghana, a laboured 1-1 draw against a nine-man United States and a 2-0 victory over a Czech Republic side robbed by injury of their main strikers.

In the second round the Azzurri, down to 10 men and looking despondent, were facing the prospect of extra time against Australia before a fortuitous last minute penalty gave them a controversial victory.

That set up a quarter-final against the weakest team in the last eight and even the victory over Ukraine had an element of good fortune to it -- twice the woodwork saved the Italians.

Tuesday's semi-final against the hosts in Dortmund will be the first time in this tournament that Italy will have come up against opponents of an equal status to them.

'It will be difficult for us but I think it will also be difficult for Germany,' said Lippi, who rightly suggested that little should be read into the friendly win over Juergen Klinsmann's side four months ago.

'I said at the time -- we aren't a team who will score four against Germany at the World Cup and they aren't a team who will concede four against us,' he said.

Germany are a different side now, on a high after their 4-2 win over Argentina on penalties and they will also enjoy a partisan home support.

When it comes to playing the host nation, Italy's recent record is the only statistic that counts against them.

In 1998 they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by hosts and eventual winners France and four years ago they were knocked out in the second round by co-hosts South Korea.

'But they were a quarter-final and a second round match,' said Lippi, 'This will be a semi-final'.