Francesco de Angelis is quietly proud of his sailors. Together for just two years, the Luna Rossa crew of 16 Italians and one Brazilian defied all AmericaOne’s predictions they would crack and crumble under the pressure of the America’s Cup challenger finals.

But there is no gloating from the Prada helmsman and skipper. “How you say, you never have to skin the bear before you kill it,” de Angelis says of the Paul Cayard-led taunts. Maybe his English, though good, gets the adage a little confused but he knows what he means. De Angelis and AmericaOne skipper Cayard are old friends, but in the fire of the challenger finals there was no love lost.

While Cayard wasted no opportunity in cranking up the psychological pressure on the Italians, de Angelis kept quiet, getting the last laugh when Prada came from 3-4 down to beat AmericaOne in the final two races of the nine-match series to clinch a challenge against Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup. “Yes it was good,” de Angelis says. “It was a very good team effort, and we had to do it. We never would have another opportunity. “So it’s good to be here and still have the opportunity to challenge now for the America’s Cup in the match.”

De Angelis, a five-times world sailing champion in various classes, has triumphed so far at his first America’s Cup, against Cayard’s fifth, and he now becomes the first Italian-born skipper to lead an Italian bid for the cup. The 39-year-old born in Naples has known plenty of success since he began sailing as a 16-year-old, but he admits to still learning the art of match-racing.

Prada put together its sailing team just two years ago, and under New Zealand coaches Rod Davis, Alan Smith and Don Cowie, de Angelis and his Brazilian-born long-time tactician Torben Grael, have become a formidable match-racing duo.

They learn so quickly, that after Cayard trapped them for a heart-breaking penalty in the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the two turned the tables and lured AmericaOne into conceding three in the finals, critically costing the San Fransisco team three races. “It something you never stop learning actually, it’s something that takes a lot of time,” de Angelis says. “We just try to do as much as we could in the time frame that we have. Of course we know it’s just two years.”

In that time his crew have developed a quiet inner-confidence about their own abilities, and a similar confidence about the potential of their boat, Luna Rossa. “We are doing this thing for the first time altogether. Yes, there is a lot of experience from previous cups in other parts of the team, but the sailors are doing it for the first time. “So that makes the group very tight. “We knew we could do it,” he says of coming from 3-4 down against AmericaOne in the finals. “We had won races before. So what we had to do was do what we knew, in a simple way — just try not to panic.” De Angelis said by the end of the finals series his team had been able to take the Americans on at their own game, match-racing, and beat them under pressure.

He said the need to develop that ability explains why Prada syndicate head Patrizio Bertelli spent $US55 ($NZ112) million to build a challenge from scratch.

De Angelis has seldom raced Team New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts. The pair met in the Road to America’s Cup regatta last summer, though he has come up against other Team New Zealand sailors in events such as the Admiral’s Cup, won by de Angelis in 1995. “Team New Zealand is a very strong team. We have a lot of respect for what they have done. “They own the cup, they were born in this place so they know it very well. We just have to use the skills that we made. “The high level of the finals was a great opportunity to learn, now we just have to trust in the team that we have.” De Angelis will not be drawn into criticisms of other campaigns, despite much US whinging about the amount of money spent by the Italians.

But he does