Antonio Conte has called on his men to rise to the challenge of playing against Spanish giants Real Madrid when they line up at the famous Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
The Bianconeri manager underlined his respect for the nine-time European champions during this afternoon’s press conference in the Spanish capital, but believes his side should be confident in playing their own game in tomorrow’s Group B clash.
Addressing the world's media ahead of his team's final workout, Conte began: “It’s an encounter that motivates both myself and my players. We’ll aim to stick to our game plan, knowing that we’ll be up against a fine side and a club that can spend 100 million on Bale and recoup 50 for Ozil. Such figures display the strength of Real’s players.
“We’ve studied them and we’ll need to show plenty of sacrifice, courage and heart tomorrow night. We know we’ll have to tough it out, but we’ll also try and cause them problems when we get the opportunity. We want to show that we’re capable of playing on this stage by putting in an excellent performance.”
The media’s focus in the build-up to the game has largely centered on the manner in which the Bianconeri stumbled to their first defeat of the season on Sunday, when a four-goal blitz in the space of 14 second-half minutes overturned a seemingly comfortable lead in Florence.
But Conte says his men should consign the reverse to the history books and aim to brush off any potential after-effects by producing a positive performance.
“Something inexplicable happened in Florence but these things can occur in football. Just look at what happened in the Champions League final when Milan were 3-0 up at half time against Liverpool, or Bayern Munich losing in the dying seconds against Manchester United.
"We also experienced something similar last year when with an extra man we allowed Sampdoria to overturn our lead and win 2-1 at Juventus Stadium.
“We now need to move on and face an important fixture against an extremely strong side. Real are the most prestigious club in the world and have a structure in place that enables them to push for every honour on a yearly basis.”
Despite the undoubted importance of tomorrow’s 14th meeting between the sides in Europe’s elite competition, Conte maintains there is still a long way to go before places in the last-16 are decided.
“Tomorrow’s meeting won’t be decisive in terms of who goes through, regardless of the result. There will still be three matches remaining and it’s still all to play for. Our biggest regret so far is the draw against Galatasaray.
"We turned the game back in our favour on 87 minutes and then conceded a minute later. That result was a bitter pill to swallow and it could eventually have an impact, but for now we’ll think about tomorrow’s game.”
An intriguing twist to an already fascinating encounter is to be found in the dugouts, where former apprentice Conte, who captained Carlo Ancelotti’s Juventus between 1999 and 2001, will lock horns with his mentor.
Concluding with a thought on the experienced tactician, he added: “We may not have won any major honours during those two seasons, but we spent intense moments together. What do I envy? His career, it’s been wonderful and made up of trophy successes. But it’s not a nasty kind of envy, it’s simply a compliment, he’s deserved everything he’s achieved. He’s got to the very top and I wish him all the very best for the future, but not for tomorrow.”