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02 Mar 2013

Conte hails Juve character

The manager praises his side for their battling performance but insists there is still a long way to go before this season’s title race reaches its conclusion

Antonio Conte praised the Bianconeri’s resilience in the face of a challenging test at the San Paolo but believes his side could have been home and dry ahead of the hosts’ second half assault on Gigi Buffon’s goal.

Addressing reporters after the 1-1 draw in Naples, Conte began: “It was an important test of character. Given the fiery atmosphere, we did well to maintain our composure and stay in the game.

“Considering how the first half panned out, I could sense victory and the opportunity to put Napoli further behind. But while the match is still in the opposition’s reach, they can always turn the result around.

“Today we weren’t clinical enough which is a shame because if we had gone 2-0 up, it would have been a heavy blow for Napoli. They were more cautious after the break and waited for us to come at them before attacking the spaces.

“Of course in these games, people are thinking about the bigger picture. In the second half I believe the lads took this on board and tried to handle the game accordingly. And I think that this is a sign of maturity.”

Despite Juventus maintaining their grip on top spot with this evening’s draw, Conte claims the title race is far from over and cited several teams who could yet throw a spanner in the works as Juventus bid to retain their Scudetto crown.

“Six points is a good advantage, but there are still 11 games left and we still have to play against Inter, Lazio, Milan and next Sunday, we face up against this year’s surprise package Catania.

“We must always be ruthless and keep going flat out to try and repeat last year’s achievements. This is crunch time, there’s no more room for slip ups. We have to look towards the finish line and try to get there first.”

The Bianconeri will now turn their attentions to guaranteeing a Champions League quarter-final spot when Celtic travel to Juventus Stadium on Wednesday night.

“We’re in the Champions League this year, which demands a lot of physical and mental energy. We have to stay on our toes, because everyone will have to play their part all the way until the end.

“We want to retain the Scudetto and continue to keep the Champions League dream alive. We play Celtic on Wednesday and start with a 3-0 lead, but I’m not relaxed and won’t be until the final whistle.”