Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Depleted Azzurri face tough task

Italy arrived in Kiev on Tuesday with a squad of wounded players, limiting coach Roberto Donadoni's options for Wednesday's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Ukraine.

After drawing 0-0 with France in Milan on Saturday, the world champions have relinquished second place in qualifying Group B to Scotland.

A similar result in Kiev would seriously compromise the Azzurri's chances of qualifying for Austria and Switzerland, and the atmosphere on Tuesday was not one of confidence as the pressure grows on Donadoni.

Furthermore, Donadoni is burdened with a trio of injury doubts. Midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi are rated doubtful with ankle and foot injuries respectively, while Gianluca Zambrotta was unable to train on Tuesday morning because of cramp. Key midfielder Gennaro Gattuso is also suspended.

Striker Luca Toni has already been ruled out of the fixture while Alessandro Del Piero may be dropped after a lacklustre performance against the French.

His Juventus team-mate Vincenzo Iaquinta has been called up and could go straight into the team on Wednesday, with Donadoni expected to ring the changes for a game his side must win.

That would mean a more attacking approach after using just the one man, Filippo Inzaghi, in attack on Saturday. Udinese's Fabio Quagliarella and Cristiano Lucarelli of Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk are in line to start in a three-man attack alongside the Milan striker.

"There is no particular pressure, as every match needs to be won," Donadoni told Italian television upon the team’s arrival in Kiev. "Every time we end up repeating the same obvious platitudes. Each game is important and crucial to ensure our journey continues to be a positive one.

"It will be a difficult match against an opponent that wants to win. We are here to get a result and will battle it out with everything we’ve got," he concluded.

It is not just Italy for whom this is a must-win game - Ukraine know three points would thrust them back into contention alongside France, Scotland and Italy.

Defeat, on the other hand, would effectively end all hopes of Oleg Blokhin's side finishing in the top two. "I am an optimist and I am therefore convinced that we still have chances to qualify," said Blokhin. "This is our last chance to still have any hope."

Ukraine trail the Azzurri by four points, but still have a game in hand on their opponents, and face both France and Scotland in their remaining four matches.

They are certain to play a decisive role in the destiny of Group B, starting on Wednesday night at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Source: Sporting Life

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