Italy have no alternative but to improve at Euros: coach Spalletti

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Italy;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Italy</a>'s head coach Luciano Spalletti said his team had to improve in the Euro 2024 knock-outs as there was no alternative (Alberto PIZZOLI)

Italy coach Luciano Spalletti expects his team will improve their performance level against Switzerland in the Euro 2024 last 16 on Saturday, after the holders limped painfully through the group phase.

The Azzurri needed a last-gasp strike by Lazio winger Mattia Zaccagni to snatch a 1-1 draw with Croatia on Monday to send them through in second place behind Group B winners Spain.

"We need to realise that we can't afford to switch off as we did at certain times in games that we have played so far," Spalletti told reporters Friday.

"The fact we're now into the heart of the competition, now that we've made it through the group, gives you the level you need to consistently demonstrate, as there is no alternative.

"From a psychological perspective, in terms of personality I do expect a bit more than what we've shown so far."

After an opening win over minnows Albania, Italy were thoroughly outplayed by three-time champions Spain.

Spalletti said his team had to step up a level to make Italy fans proud.

"We have to do something a bit better than what we've achieved so far to make that happen," he said.

"We had to make it through the group, we did that, now I expect to see (the players) a little bit more relaxed, because we have to focus on a knock-out match.

"You can't think about permutations... you have to act, the time is now, we can only make it through to the next round if we win the game."

Italy won the 2006 World Cup final at Berlin's Olympiastadion where they face Switzerland, bidding for a quarter-final spot against England or Slovakia.

"We have with us Gigi Buffon, who over the last days has spoken with us about that final, he discussed it with everyone," said Spalletti of the former goalkeeper, now head of Italy's delegation.

"He allowed us to relive all of the excitement that we enjoyed, watching it back home in 2006.

"We know we have to honour the comparisons with our predecessors, with that group when they brought home the trophy, it adds pressure and responsibility."

- 'Difficult customers' -

Spalletti confirmed all his team had practiced penalties ahead of the game but hoped they could settle the affair before that stage.

However the 65-year-old acknowledged Switzerland's quality after they almost beat Germany in the group, before the hosts rescued a 1-1 draw.

"We know we're up against very difficult customers in Switzerland, their results bear witness to that," said the coach.

"They set up very well and showed against Germany just how much quality they possess."

Spalletti said defender Gianluca Mancini would replace the suspended Riccardo Calafiori in the heart of defence, while Italy are sweating on defender Alessandro Bastoni's availability after he suffered a fever.

The coach revealed he had a tricky decision over whether Gianluca Scamacca will start up front or if he would opt for Mateo Retegui.

"That's the only question mark I have, because they are two very good players," added Spalletti.