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Azzurri keen to prove a point

sports Updated: Jun 08, 2008 23:12 IST
AP
Euro

Italy want to show their World Cup victory was no fluke, and perennial underachiever the Netherlands want to show they are still capable of winning a major tournament.

Both teams will have something to prove at the European Championship in Monday's Group C opener in Bern, Switzerland.

"We're the reigning World Cup champions and we're expected to win this European Championship," Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero said. "But they're two different types of competitions. Two years ago, everything went perfectly and that's going to be tough to repeat. But we're here to try."

It has been 20 years since the Netherlands won the European Championship for its only international trophy. Current coach Marco van Basten was the star of that tournament with five goals, yet he doesn't see any significance in his involvement again after two decades.

"It is just a coincidence. It just happens," Van Basten said.

Ruud van Nistelrooy is the current Netherlands striker of importance, and he is joined in attack by Real Madrid teammates Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, with Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart in support.

Winger Arjen Robben will miss the Italy game after picking up a groin injury in training Saturday.

Italy counter with high-scoring Luca Toni, the 1.93-meter striker who had 39 goals with Bayern Munich last season.

How afraid is Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar of Toni?

"Very afraid," the Manchester United player said with a big laugh. "He is the main striker and you have to think about him, but it is not only Luca Toni. They have got a lot more good players. It is a well-balanced team."

Toni should be flanked by Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi in Italy coach Roberto Donadoni's preferred 4-3-3 lineup, with Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo joined by either Daniele De Rossi or Massimo Ambrosini in midfield.

Di Natale scored twice in Italy's 3-1 win over Belgium in a friendly last week.

The problems for both Italy and the Netherlands lie in defence.

Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out of the tournament after injuring his ankle in Italy's opening training session, and right back Christian Panucci is also hurting.

"Rather than being excuses, the injuries are going to motivate us more," Del Piero said.

The Netherlands don't have anyone tall enough to defend Toni, with the job likely falling to unsung John Heitinga or Andre Ooijer.

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