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Euro 2016 team preview: Italy have few stars but proven tournament savvy

Group E: Belgium | Italy | Republic of Ireland | Sweden

Expectations are always high around Italy, the Euro 2012 runners-up, but it would be a stretch to expect a side short on genuine stars to match that achievement. A run to the semifinals would be acceptable, especially after their embarrassing group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup.

How they qualified: First in Group H

Italy were undefeated and won their group by four points from Croatia, though their form was solid rather than spectacular. Only twice, in Norway and Azerbaijan, did they win games by more than a single goal, and narrow home victories over Malta and the Azerbaijanis were not convincing.

How they'll proceed:

Italy never lack confidence, but they might fancy their chances more if they finished second in Group E, which could bring a last-16 meeting with Portugal but should bring an easier quarterfinal if that path is navigated. Regardless, this side will find it tough to get past the last eight.

TBD by Editor
Italy won the European Championship in 1968 and were finalists in 2000 and 2012.

Predicted lineup:

(3-4-3); GK: Gianluigi Buffon; DF: Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; MF: Alessandro Florenzi, Daniele De Rossi, Thiago Motta, Emanuele Giaccherini; FW: Antonio Candreva, Lorenzo Insigne, Graziano Pelle.

Key player: Giorgio Chiellini

Italy successes are usually underpinned by a dominant centre-back or two, and 31-year-old Chiellini is up with the best in the game. He also has a score to settle: A fitness doubt before the 2012 final, he started at left-back but was out of sorts in a 4-0 defeat to Spain.

Manager: Antonio Conte

Conte, who had a glittering career as a player with Juventus and won 20 caps, will step down after this tournament and has been strongly linked with Chelsea. He took the national team job in 2014, after three years in the Juve hot seat that brought three Serie A titles.

Schedule:

June 13 vs. Belgium (3 p.m. ET/7 p.m. GMT; Stade de Lyon, Lyon)
-- LIVE on ESPN

June 17 vs. Sweden (9 a.m. ET/1 p.m. GMT; Stade de Toulouse, Toulouse)
-- LIVE on ESPN

June 22 vs. Republic of Ireland (3 p.m. ET/7 p.m. GMT; Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)
-- LIVE on ESPN

Games are also LIVE on ESPN Deportes, ESPN FC, WatchESPN and the ESPN app.

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