Rossi living the dream
© AFP

Sitting in the lobby of the team hotel in Qinhuangdao, Italy and Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi was a relaxed figure. In front of him were relaxed members of the Cameroon squad. To his right, the Korea Republic team were marching out of the doors for a mid-morning stroll, while the Hondurans were logging on to the internet to check out the latest football news.

Surveying the scene of this mini-United Nations of football, the 21-year-old couldn't help but smile as he relived the experience of the welcome he received from the Chinese hosts, who presented every player with a bag of gifts upon their arrival.

"So far, it's been a great experience - and we haven't even played a match yet," he beamed. "We've been waiting a long time to come here and experience this atmosphere. It's something unique. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm sure at one stage, we all dreamed about participating in this kind of tournament and winning the gold medal. I guess we're living a dream."

Determined mind behind the smile
Yet, for all the fantasy, Rossi has his feet firmly on the ground. He realises that the goodwill in Qinhuangdao will not help to win the matches or the medals that Italy have come here to claim - and his new-found friends are precisely the ones looking to embarrass the Azzurrini.

We're not familiar with any of these teams and at this age level, the unknown quantities are the most dangerous
Giuseppe Rossi on Italy's Group D opponents

"When the draw was made, truthfully, we were worried," he said. ". They will all be viewing us as a scalp, so I am sure that Honduras, Korea and Cameroon will be very tough to play against - and to beat."

The New Jersey-born starlet arrives at the Olympics on the crest of a wave. He scored 11 goals in 22 starts for Villarreal last season to help the Yellow Submarine to a second-placed finish in La Liga. However, while his club team-mates will be eagerly anticipating the UEFA Champions League draw on 28 August, he is, by his own admission, "firmly focused" on the Olympics.

An Italian state of mind
Back in 2006, Rossi was invited by the then USA coach Bruce Arena to attend a pre-FIFA World Cup™ training camp, but declined, stating his desire to play for Italy - and not the country of his birth. It is a decision which he feels has been vindicated given his presence at the Olympics.

"It's always been my dream to play for Italy, but I'd like to thank USA for giving me the opportunity to play for them," he said. "It's turned out exactly how way I wanted."

"For me, it's always good to play with Italian players - I feel at home. Plus, here I'm learning from two great former players (Pierluigi Casiraghi and Gianfranco Zola). They always give you great input, they know the game inside out and being ex-pros themselves, they know exactly what we want, but more importantly what we need. There's a great chemistry within the squad - and with the coaching staff, and that's part of the reason why we've been successful in our matches. Hopefully, that will continue in the weeks ahead."