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Conte's home pride

When Antonio Conte burst into the penalty area to score Juventus FC's opening goal in their 3-0 defeat of US Lecce on 3 February, no one would have been surprised if the 32-year-old Italian international had indulged in an extravagant celebration.

Captain since Peruzzi's departure, Antonio Conte has scored many decisive goals through the years.

Fine comeback
After all, it was his first goal of the season and one that signalled a splendid comeback from a difficult period marked by injuries and dressing room tensions. Conte, however, hardly moved a muscle as his team-mates jumped on his back to congratulate him.

Home pride
Conte, you see, is Lecce-born and proud of it. Out of respect for his home town, his own people, and for the club where he started his professional career back in the summer of 1985, Conte contained his celebrations. "I was born in Lecce and I am proud of that," said the player after the game. "I started my career in Lecce, it's my home town and I didn't want to offend anyone."

Midfield battler
Fierce southern pride, grit and determination have been the hallmarks of Conte's successful career. Where others make the most of traditional Mediterranean virtues, such as close control, native intuition and sheer elegance, Conte's trademark has been his fearless midfield battling qualities.

Coaches choice
Less flamboyant than many of the famous names he has performed alongside, Conte is nonetheless the sort of rugged player coaches tend to use when the chips are down. And with good reason, has he won 20 caps, playing in both the 1994 FIFA World Cup(against Spain in the last eight and Italy's semi-final victory over Bulgaria) and EURO 2000™ in the Low Countries.

Injury hell
Mention of that last tournament highlights another aspect of Conte's career, namely injuries. His combative style means that he tends to stick his leg in where others might decide discretion is the better part of valour. Conte's last game for Italy came in their EURO 2000™ quarter-final meeting with Romania when he had to limp off following a crude tackle by Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi.

Conte marked his presence in the Azzurri lineup with a fine bycicle kick in the match against Turkey during Euro2000.

Knee surgery
He has spent much time on the injured list since then, first recovering from Hagi's tackle and then from knee surgery last summer. Conte's combative style has also tended to get him into trouble off the field.

Lippi unrest
As team captain, his clashes with Juventus coach Marcello Lippi probably played an element in Lippi's surprise resignation from the club in February 1999. More recently, following Lippi's return to the Delle Alpi stadium last summer, Conte and the coach appear to have put their differences behind them.

Recovery aid
Conte underlined this when saying recently: "Lippi took a very positive attitude to me during my recovery period, you could even say he helped motivate me. Everything is OK between us, we've sorted out all our previous problems and misunderstandings and things could not be better."

With the presence of veterans Conte and Ferrara, Juve have picked up the pace after a slow start to the season.

Winning ways
With Juventus chasing honours on three fronts – Serie A, the UEFA Champions League and the Italian Cup – Lippi knew only too well that sooner or later he would need Conte. Remarkably, however, Conte's return, beginning wth a brief appearance in the second half of the 1-1 draw with Milan AC in early December, has coincided with a tremendous run that has taken La Vecchia Signora to second place in Serie A, one point behind leaders AS Roma, as well as to the final of the Italian Cup.

Draw in Rome
Consistent starter Conte started six Serie A games in succession, all of which were wins, ahead of Sunday's game against AS Roma at the Olimpico stadium on Sunday night - a 0-0 draw in which he replaced Alessandro del Piero at half-time.

World Cup dream
Whatever happens between now and the end of the current campaign with Juventus, Conte has another objective in mind. "Now that I'm back to my best, I want to be able to prove on the field that I'm useful not just to Lippi but also to Italy and to coach [Giovanni] Trapattoni," he said. "It's my dream to play in this summer's World Cup finals." Given his current form, Conte is entitled to keep on dreaming.

This article is entitled from "Conte's home pride", taken from UEFA Magazine. The images are not original.