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France look strong ahead of vital Italy clash

india Updated: Sep 04, 2006 11:22 IST
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France and Italy go head to head in Paris in the clash of the titans on Wednesday in the latest round of Euro 2008 qualifying matches.

But although Italy are the new world champions, for a fourth time, it is France who head into the game in much the more confident mood.

Since lifting the World Cup in July, Italy lost a friendly 2-0 at home to Croatia last month, albeit playing a virtually reserve team, and were then held to an embarrassing 1-1 draw by minnows Lithuania at home on Saturday.

France, on the other hand, have recovered admirably from their World Cup disappointment, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-1 away in a friendly and then dismantling Georgia 3-0 in Tbilisi on Saturday.

And with the Italian league yet to begin, many of the Italian players are lacking in match practice this season.

It should make France the overwhelming favourites for the game, a crucial one in Group B.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni, however, will not be panicked into any rash decisions.

"I'm am not going to make any changes for the match against France," said DonadoniDonadoni.

"I'm proud of the players and the whole squad.

"What happens if we return from the French game with only a point (after two matches)?" added Donadoni when asked about possible defeat at the Stade de France.

"If that happens, I will answer after the match. But I could turn the question round and ask myself what if we came back with four points? It's great to play our World Cup final opponents again."

If France do have a worry, it is over the goalscoring form of star forward Thierry Henry, who has yet to score in five matches this season, although he seems far from bothered.

"I have said it before and I will say it again, that's the least of my worries if the team wins," insisted Henry.

"I am still not ready physically. Against Manchester City (where Arsenal lost 1-0) I could have scored four goals and I missed them all.

"Saturday I felt good in my legs. I am getting stronger."

France may be happy with their start but that cannot be said of the Netherlands who laboured to a sorry 1-0 win over Luxembourg in their opening match.

And they will have a far tougher test from Belarus in their next one.

Despite his team being weakened by injuries and suspensions, coach Marco van Basten was still concerned with what he saw in Luxembourg.

"It was too poor to talk about details, really nothing worked out." he said.

"These players all proved in the recent past that they can play football but didn't show that."

England coach Steve McClaren is trying to keep his team's feet on the ground after a dream start to his career as national team coach.

England followed up a 4-0 thrashing of European champions Greece in a friendly last month with a comfortable 5-0 demolition of Andorra on Saturday.

Next up they travel to Macedonia, a team that drew 2-2 with England in Southampton, four years ago, in a Euro 2004 qualifier.

"We have come across Macedonia before and we know that it will be a tough game in Skopje but my belief is that it will be down to us not the opposition," said McClaren.

Germany coach Joachim Low may have steered his side to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Republic of Ireland in their first qualifier but nothing other than a goal glut will suffice for his team against San Marino on Wednesday.

"It was important to start the Euro 2008 campaign with a win," Low said.

"It was hard to break down Ireland at times but we have to get used to coming up against defensive walls as there will be more in the qualification stage."

Wednesday's fixtures

Group A

Armenia v Belgium, Azerbaijan v Kazakhstan, Finland v Portugal, Poland v Serbia

Group B

France v Italy, Lithuania v Scotland, Ukraine v Georgia

Group C

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Hungary, Norway v Moldova, Turkey v Malta

Group D

San Marino v Germany, Slovakia v Czech Republic

Group E

Macedonia v England, Israel v Andorra, Russia v Croatia

Group F

Iceland v Denmark, Northern Ireland v Spain, Sweden v Liechtenstein

Group G

Albania v Romania, Bulgaria v Slovenia, Holland v Belarus

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