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Pellegrini Hits Back at Spain, Talks Totti Exit

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The Roma vice-captain met with the press ahead of the Azzurrini’s Group A match against Poland.

Italy U21 Training Session & Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

After being one of the Azzurrini’s star players during Sunday’s U21 Euro opening match victory, Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini took part in Monday’s pre-match presser. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but being a Roman playing for Roma, Monday brought plenty to talk about. Pellegrini spoke on the U21s big win over Spain, Wednesday’s Poland match, and of course, Francesco Totti’s exit. During the press conference, Pellegrini demonstrated some leadership qualities that will be important as he takes on his new role as vice-captain to Alessandro Florenzi.

Pellegrini’s press conference started off with journalists asking him about the big news of the day: Totti’s exit. Pellegrini’s response was measured. He remained professional, while at the same time expressing his gratification to Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Pellegrini was always going to be in the journalists’ crosshairs with this one, considering that he and Florenzi are next in line to carry on the Roman tradition at Roma; something that Totti feels is being threatened by the current ownership group.

“I would like to thank Francesco for what he said. We have a good relationship. Today is a rather special day for the people who love him, as well as, Daniele.”

AS Roma v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Following Italy’s come from behind victory, Spanish players lamented what they felt was unfair treatment from the match official. The Spanish felt like they were hard done and even should’ve been up a man for what they felt was rough treatment from the Italians. Spain captain Jesus Vallejo even called the Azzurrini’s play “very dirty”. Pellegrini quickly shot down that criticism with some strong words for the Iberians.

“The Spanish must begin to understand that there is also physical contact [in football]. Yesterday it seemed to me that several times they threw themselves, I won’t say in simulations, but sometimes they also exaggerated. They should learn something from us.”

Spain also complained about the VAR decision that awarded Italy a penalty when Pellegrini was brought down on a late run into the box. A penalty that was converted by Pellegrini, essentially closing out the win. The Roma man, unsurprisingly, felt the penalty was just.

Italy v Spain: Group A - 2019 UEFA U-21 Championship Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

“It’s true, the foul began outside the box, but I kept going for a few more meters in the hope I could still reach Riccardo Orsolini’s cross. There are three penalty takers in the squad, it’s me and Federico Dimarco first, then Orsolini. I felt ready and so I took it.”

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s match in Bologna, Pellegrini spoke with tranquility. It’s a match that could be decisive in the hosts advancing to the semifinals. Pellegrini made it clear that Italy wouldn’t treat its preparations any differently than those for a heavyweight like Spain.

“We prepare for the matches trying to win them all, no one prepares them to win or lose. We need to prepare for each match with serenity. We need to be calm and secure qualification. We’ll think about the rest afterwards”

Pellegrini attributed the strengths of so many young Italian players to the newfound opportunity at many of Italy’s biggest clubs; something that wasn’t always the case on the peninsula.

“Playing with better players helps you grow faster. We all have the chance to play on our clubs and it wasn’t like that a few years ago. We’re more prepared as Under-21s than a few years ago. We must try to give continuity to everything what we’re doing.”

Italy will look build on Sunday’s big win when they host Poland at the Dall’Ara on Wednesdy. As Pellegrini put it the Spain win was a “real step forward” for this Azzurrini squad. However, if Italy don’t come out with a similar performance and three more points then “it’ll feel futile”.