Giovanni Trapattoni expressed his pride after guiding the Republic of Ireland to UEFA EURO 2012 and declared his side ready to emulate 2004 surprise champions Greece.
Ireland secured qualification for its first major finals since the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ with a 1-1 draw against Estonia on Tuesday, rounding off a comprehensive 5-1 aggregate victory against Tarmo Ruutli's men. Stephen Ward scored the goal that had the 51,151 Dublin crowd in raptures, and Konstantin Vassiljev's second half leveller was merely a brief break in the celebrations.
Trapattoni, in charge of Ireland since 2008, basked in the glory after the final whistle and admitted there were no limits to what his charges could achieve next summer. "I hope only that we have no injuries and no suspensions," said the 72-year-old Italian, who is regarded as one of the most successful coaches in Serie A history, garnering six league titles with Juventus, the 1985 European Cup, two UEFA Cups and a Cup Winners Cup.
"It would be good that we have new options to come in but it's important that we have the basis of our first team available. With this group though, why not (match Greece)? It's not a dream."
Trapattoni - whose previous international experience with Italy from 2000-2004 was a rare failure - is set to land a new contract, having achieved qualification two years after a controversial defeat to France in the 2010 FIFA World Cup playoff.
Faith in personnel
The Italian never lost faith in his players, and was fulsome in his praise of the players. "I am very, very proud for many reasons," he said. "First, we (him and assistant Marco Tardelli) have come here (to Ireland) with an important objective and aim and while we were in a difficult group last time (2010 campaign) we could have achieved qualification. But we started again.
"We have started again with a new mentality and the players believe in our system. We have also discovered the second, important options in terms of players. They have shown how important they have been for us. We have improved our quality.
"This is the most important moment we have had," he said, pointing to Tardelli, who scored a memorable goal in Italy's 3-1 win over West Germany in the 1982 FIFA World Cup Final. "We don't concede too many goals, we conceded one tonight and drew but we still qualified. That is my only disappointment. But I told the players to remember their objective. Ninety minutes of football is another game.
"In the first 30 minute's Robbie (Keane) had two or three great opportunities and we could have closed out the game. But Estonia scored. Still, I am happy that we didn't lose and that we continued in this way of not losing. This is a good attitude to have. We can go to the finals very confident about our players."
Trapattoni has always declared his affinity and closeness with the Irish people, and admitted he was delighted to be able to put some cheer in their lives."I like the Irish people, I was born in a village and I like Ireland, it's like my life in Italy. For this reason I am proud as I understand what Irish people wish for and dream about so I am happy for this moment. I understand the Irish people's mentality.
"We must always believe we have the possibility. Our team can not only dream but can play against all the bigger teams. We have played against Argentina and Brazil and played well and not deserved to lose."