Friday, 7 September 2007

Azzurri prepare for France showdown

France will be looking to further avenge their World Cup final defeat when they travel to Italy for their latest Euro 2008 qualifier on Saturday.

In Milan, they face their bitter rivals and, although both nations claim the World Cup final last year is forgotten about, there will always be a special rivalry to games between the two nations following the events in Berlin.

Furthermore, the stakes are high in a contest to be disputed in front of a sell-out crowd of 85,000 at the San Siro. Only two points separate Les Bleus from the Azzurri at the top of Euro 2008 qualifying Group B.

Whereas defeat for France would hardly compromise their chances of qualifying, a second loss for Italy after their 3-1 humiliation in Paris last year would leave them facing an uphill struggle to reach Austria and Switzerland.

The visitors will therefore arrive in a more relaxed mood having already stoked the coals ahead of their arrival in Milan.

"Italy against France is decisive for Italy; France against Scotland is decisive for France," admitted France coach Raymond Domenech. "That game is more important to me than the one against Italy. If we don't beat Scotland, then it is difficult for us."

Domenech will follow proceedings from the stands at the San Siro as part of a UEFA punishment for provocative remarks to the detriment of Italian football.

Those words have not gone unnoticed by the Azzurri, and they intend to channel their anger into revenge on the field.

"We will see who is laughing at the end of the game," said Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. "When people come out with arrogant phrases, our reaction on the field is always exceptional."

One advantage Italy will have over their guests on Saturday will be the experience of playing such matches.

With Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso all set to start, they have an array of players who have won all of the domestic game's major honours.

France, on the other hand, may have to take a risk or two with Patrick Vieira set to make his first appearance since pulling his thigh while playing for the national team last month.

He has yet to play for Inter this season, and his nomination for the squad was met with indignation from the Serie A champions, who have been nurturing him back slowly.

Bayern Munich are in a similar situation with Luca Toni, who is eager to play for Italy on Saturday despite missing the Bavarians' last Bundesliga fixture through injury.

Should he be picked by Italy coach Roberto Donadoni, there would be a series of inner-club rivalries, perhaps adding more spice to the game.

He would line up against Franck Ribery while Buffon and Del Piero would face their Juve team-mate David Trezeguet. Inter's Vieira can renew his club and city rivalry with Milan's Andrea Pirlo, Gattuso and Massimo Oddo.

Meanwhile, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) have decided to pay homage to world renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti who died on Thursday at the age of 71. After the two teams' warm up at the San Siro tomorrow evening, there will be a tribute video played out on the large screen ahead of the kick-off.

Source: Sporting Life

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