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Italy and France renew rivalry
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 06 - 06 - 2008

World Cup holder Italy and beaten finalist France will renew hostilities in the toughest group of Euro 2008.
The Netherlands and Romania, neither to be taken lightly, complete a Group C that will finish with at least one former European champion on the tournament scrapheap.
Italy, which opens on Monday against the Dutch in Berne, is without World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, who was ruled out of the championship by an ankle injury sustained in their first training session after arriving in Austria.
Despite the loss of defender Cannavaro, Italy has outstanding players across the pitch, from the intimidating Gianluigi Buffon in goal to the towering Luca Toni up front. “It will not be easy to repeat what we did (in the World Cup) in Germany but definitely we all have a great will to try again,” Buffon told reporters.
“The group is difficult. We are calm and respect everyone. If Holland and France have tradition, Romania have strong players. Even that won't be an easy match.”
That view was shared by France coach Raymond Domenech. “When I saw the draw I told myself it couldn't have been worse; which doesn't mean we can't live with it,” Domenech said.
France will want revenge for the 2006 World Cup final defeat by Italy on penalties which featured Zinedine Zidane's infamous head-butt on Marco Materazzi.
Zidane retired after the tournament but France has no shortage of quality without him. Forward Thierry Henry, winger Franck Ribery and young striker Karim Benzema all have the profile of a defender's worst nightmare. France fans will also have happier memories of beating Italy in the final of Euro 2000.
More recently Italy and France were drawn in the same Euro 2008 qualifying group, with Les Bleus winning 3-1 in Paris before holding Italy to a 0-0 draw in Milan, a game for which Domenech was suspended for inappropriate remarks.
Domenech had accused Italy of bribing the referee of an under-21 international against France in 1999.
Despite the squabbling France admire Italy and became a force to be reckoned with after copying their neighbors' tactical, defensive approach.
It was in Serie A that Zidane and Didier Deschamps, their 1998 World Cup-winning captain, added a new dimension to their game and to France's.
The two Latin rivals meet in Zurich on June 17 for their final group game, a potentially decisive encounter.
Romania, which qualified in style to end a run of absence from the last three major tournaments, has plenty of talent and a dangerous marksman in Adrian Mutu.
“Romania have the fourth-best chance of going through but this could be an advantage,” said its coach Victor Piturca, aware Italy and France should be locked in a three-way battle with the Dutch.
On paper the Netherlands have real firepower up front with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt.
Coach Marco van Basten, remembered for scoring with a splendid volley in the victory over the former Soviet Union in the Euro 1988 final, must now turn a collection of brilliant individuals into a team. – Reuters __


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