New coach Conte vows to return Italy to top

ROME (AP) — Antonio Conte is ready to turn Italy back into a powerhouse.

The former Juventus coach agreed a two-year contract Tuesday as Italy’s national coach. He succeeds Cesare Prandelli, who resigned immediately after Italy’s early elimination from the World Cup in Brazil.

“I like tough challenges. I am very convinced we can rise up again because Italy has to be among the top teams in the world,” Conte said at a news conference. “I’m bringing my mentality here. I live for winning. The difference between victory and defeat is for me the same as between life and death.”

He reportedly will earn $11 million for his two years, some of it supposedly funded by team sponsor Puma. As part of the deal, the Italian soccer federation owns all of Conte’s image rights.

Conte quit Juventus last month after guiding the club to a third successive Serie A title.

“I didn’t expect to be in this position 35 days after leaving Juventus,” Conte said. “In my head I was going to travel around Europe, improve my languages. I was expecting to wait for a top club in Europe, maybe during the season or at the end.”

Italy was eliminated from the World Cup in the first round, only two years after the team reached the European Championship final.

During Prandelli’s stay, much was made of his strict code of ethics. Players were excluded from the national team if they had been banned with their clubs or involved in off-the-field disruptions.

“Everyone has to show me on and off the field that they want to be wear the Italy shirt,” the 45-year-old Conte said. “It’s better to have 25 less talented players who want to show their worth than players who don’t show their attachment to the Italy shirt. No one can take anything for granted. We’re starting from zero.”

Conte’s first game will be an exhibition against the Netherlands in Bari on Sept. 4. Italy opens its Euro 2016 qualifying at Norway five days later. Italy will also play Croatia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Malta in Group H.

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