There may be little love lost between Italy and but the two respective coaches were in agreement over one matter ahead of the eagerly anticipated Group C showdown in Zurich tonight: for both the Azzurri and and their transalpine rivals the final has come early at Euro 2008.
"We know what's at stake and we're ready to put our hearts and souls into it. For us, this is already a final," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said, while his French counterpart Raymond Domenech enthused: "This is the kind of game every player dreams of being involved in."
Few could have predicted that the last two World Cup finalists would be locking horns on Tuesday knowing that even a victory may not prove enough to reach the quarter-finals.
With one point each after two matches, Romania could render their efforts fruitless by beating the Netherlands in Berne to hold on to second spot.
In his pre-match press conference, Donadoni was keeping his cards close to his chest, saying: "I already have a good idea of my lineup, but this time I won't reveal anything beforehand."
The former AC Milan midfielder is not expected to repeat the five changes he made for the 1-1 draw with Romania, although Antonio Cassano may start in place of Alessandro Del Piero, while Gennaro Gattuso is pressing for a recall.
Domenech, meanwhile, is urging his men to focus only on events at the Letzigrund Stadion as a win is the least they need.
"We have to forget the other game completely," he stressed. "We still have a tiny chance but it will only happen if we win our game."
Like the World champions, who lost 3-0 to the Dutch in their opening game, France suffered their heaviest defeat in European Championship history in losing 4-1 against the Netherlands – and Domenech admits improvements are needed.
"We've been trying to get the Dutch game out our heads for the last three days," the 56-year-old said. "Despite the result, there were positives to take from the performance, notably concerning the number of chances we created. But we need to find a balance. Against Romania we made a lot of effort to defend, whereas against the Netherlands we made a lot of effort to attack. Against Italy we'll need to do a lot of defending and attacking."
Domenech will again be without Patrick Vieira due to a thigh injury and, though he remained coy on the subject of team selection, Eric Abidal, Lassana Diarra and Karim Benzema are being tipped to feature after missing out last time.
Ever since David Trezeguet's extra-time winner in the Euro 2000 final, France-Italy games have been keenly contested.
The Azzurri gained revenge for the Rotterdam defeat by triumphing in Berlin two years ago, yet Domenech's side reclaimed the upper hand with a victory in Paris in qualifying for Austria and Switzerland.
Donadoni suggested the rivalry was not a significant factor, however, saying: "It's just like any other game. It's an important game, but playing France is no different to playing the Netherlands or Romania. Both sides will be extremely motivated and will try to win. It should be exciting. I can't wait for the game to start."
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