EURO 2016

Italy boss Conte joins the chorus of criticism for Lille pitch

Conte tests out the pitch in Lille
Conte tests out the pitch in Lille

Antonio Conte has criticised the state of the pitch on which Italy will attempt to preserve their 100 per cent start to the Euro 2016 finals against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night.

UEFA has confirmed that the playing surface at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille will be torn up immediately after the game and a replacement, which is being brought in from the Netherlands, laid before the venue hosts its next fixture on Sunday evening.

However, Conte was less than complimentary after he and his players had inspected the pitch on Tuesday evening hours after the Ireland squad had visited the stadium with neither team allowed to train on it the night before the match, as is customary.

The Italy boss said: "The playing surface definitely isn't up to hosting a European championship match. It's not in the best state.

"I don't like coming up with excuses for my players because we will play on this pitch tomorrow night and so will Ireland.

"However, we did expect a different pitch to this one, and it is a shame because the Euros have been organised very well so far. This pitch isn't up to the standard of the competition."

Italy are already assured of their place in the last 16 having beaten Belgium and Sweden in their first two games to ensure they will finish top of Group E regardless of the result in Lille.

Conte will make changes - he denied it would be as many as nine, as has been reported, but admitted it would be "between seven and nine" - but is adamant he will not use the game simply as a training exercise.

"We are not taking this match lightly by any means," he added.

"There will be some decisions made which will show just how much it means to us. It's really important to us and it's really important to me.

"It's a fixture we want to win. We want to keep going because winning breeds confidence. If you think this match is a dead rubber, it's not the case for me.

"Let's not forget, this [Ireland] is a team which beat Germany in qualification. You don't beat Germany just by the grace of God or because you had a lucky day.

"We need to be very wary of them because this will be life and death for them and we don't want to get it wrong."

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is unlikely to be involved after battling his way through a bout of flu which only saw him return to training on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old Juventus star is a veteran of eight major tournament finals, but he and his team-mates arrived in France with little expectation from those outside the game, and their strong start to the competition has been all the more satisfying as a result.

Buffon said: "There were pretty dark clouds hanging over our chances to begin with. Everyone was saying we would be returning to home soil very quickly. Thankfully that didn't come to pass.

"That means that we really have seen all 23 players who have shown their pride. We have tried to just have simply one way of thinking, one way of working - to try and give everything to surprise and amaze people."