CIRO IMMOBILE has been getting it in the neck from his Italian team-mates for his Euro dramatics.
But veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci is refusing to kick his much maligned team-mate while he is down.
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Striker Immobile was the subject of global mockery when he went down as though he had been seriously assaulted by Jan Vertonghen during Italy’s quarter-final win against Belgium last week.
But the second that Nicolo Barrella fired Italy ahead, Immobile rose like Lazarus to join in the mass celebrations.
Bonnucci explained: “Ciro felt contact and he went down, but the joy and excitement of such an important goal means that you don’t experience any more pain.
“We all had a bit of a laugh about that and took the mickey out of him. But that was the end of it.
“Ciro is a wonderful guy, a very upstanding man, and things like that can happen on the pitch.”
But it’s not just Immobile’s histrionics which have been the subject of much criticism back home in Italy.
The Lazio centre-forward has also taken stick for his wayward finishing in spite of scoring in both of Italy’s opening group games against Turkey and Switzerland.
Yet he retains the faith of national team boss Roberto Mancini, who says: “Ciro Immobile is still the proud recipient of the European Golden Shoe and I think he has scored more goals than anyone else in the last few years.
“Often in a major tournament like this it is the most maligned player who can often prove to be the match winner. So we are fairly relaxed on that score.”
There has certainly been no-one questioning the contribution of Bonucci and defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini to Italy’s record unbeaten run of 32 games.
The Juventus team-mates with a combined age of 70 have accumulated 227 games for the national team between them and will once again be crucial in tonight’s semi-final clash with Spain.
Mancini says: “For many years I have heard that they have been the best central defensive pairing in world football.
“But their strength is that they still want to prove that is the case in every game.
“Even after all these games together they go out to show that they are the best in their position.”
Captain Chiellini, 36, has recovered from the knee injury which ruled him out of Italy’s victories against Wales and Austria.
Bonucci says: “Over the last two years we haven’t played too much together as a pairing because of Girogio’s injuries, the pandemic and some of my knocks.
“But clearly when we are alongside each other we know each other’s game inside out so things come very naturally to us.
“I don’t have to think about all the other things than I need to do when I’m playing with someone other than Giorgio.
“We can share the workload, help the team out and we can both be leaders. That is crucial and it allows us both to give 100 percent in every game.”
Tomorrow will be Bonnucci’s third European Championship face-off with Spain after losing 4-0 in the 2012 final before winning 2-0 at Euro 2016 in France.
He recalls: “The final in Kiev leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth because we were all out of steam before we got to that game.
“We were short on ideas and short on energy and we deserved to lose that day.
“But it was a completely different story in Paris in 2016 because we were sure we could cause problems for Spain and we played very well.
“This time I believe it will be a very open game and we need to show the utmost respect for an opponent who has been constantly improving throughout this tournament.
“Spain has taken a lot of criticism but Luis Enrique has protected his squad and you can see they have a lot of solidarity in their squad.
“But we know that if we are to play as we have done over the last 32 matches then we should be able to come away with a good result.”
But Mancini knows his team face probably their toughest opponent of his three year tenure and says: “Spain has dominated world football for 20 years. They play a brand of football which has brought them incredible success.
“They are not going to change their mentality and their game plan now and we cannot become Spanish overnight.
“Our style of play is different and we will try to be true to our own game because we will need a top performance if we are going to go all the way to the final.”
Team news: Leonardo Spinazzola is out after rupturing an Achilels against Belgium.
Emerson will replace him at left-back. Andrea Belotti and Rafael Toloi have both recovered from minor knocks.
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