Struggling Italy take on France

World Cup winner Italy better finish its long lap of honor before Wednesday. Otherwise it may not make it to Euro 2008.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
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World Cup winner Italy better finish its long lap of honor before Wednesday. Otherwise it may not make it to Euro 2008. Held 1-1 at home by Lithuania on Saturday, the lackluster Italians play at France less than two months after they met in the World Cup final. A defeat at Stade de France and Roberto Donadoni's team could be five points behind the French, Scotland and Georgia in the race for places at the European Championship in two years. Raymond Domenech's French team is anxious to make up for its loss to the Italians in Berlin and faces an Azzurri lineup which is struggling to recapture the form that earned a fourth World Cup. "It's not revenge because it's not like a boxing match where you can win the belt back," said France striker Thierry Henry, who was in the squad which won the 1998 World Cup. "If we win, it will be three points. But it won't give us the World Cup." But a rematch so soon afterward always offers opposing sides a chance for redemption or validation. "One side will want revenge, the other will want to show it deserved to win," Donadoni said. The Italian stars have taken a long break since their July 9 triumph in Berlin. Because the Italian season doesn't start until next weekend, Donadoni, who replaced Marcello Lippi after the World Cup, decided most of the World Cup stars were short of match fitness and decided to rest nine of them, including playmaker Francesco Totti. "France is much further ahead of us in their preparation," Donadoni said. "The physical characteristics of some of their players is really imposing. We're going to have to take that into account." The players who were unable to beat Lithuania in Naples realise how much tougher it will be for Italy to play as the World Cup holders. "From now on we have to get it into our heads that whoever plays us, being world champions, is going to be extremely competitive and we're going to have to do the same," said AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. "We have a difficult group." As well as France, Scotland, Georgia and Lithuania, Group B also has to face Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine. Donadoni and his players know what a threat he could be to their chances of reaching the Euro finals. While France hosts Italy, Ukraine takes on Georgia for its first group game, and Scotland, buoyed by a 6-0 victory over the Faeroe Islands on Saturday, goes to Lithuania. Another round of 21 Euro 2008 games sees three-time champion Germany go to San Marino, and its biggest Group D rival, the Czech Republic, crosses the border into Slovakia, which split from the Czechs in 1993. The Germans needed a deflected Lukas Podolski shot to beat Ireland 1-0 in Stuttgart on Saturday. Podolski and Miroslav Klose, who scored eight goals between them at the World Cup, receive an opportunity to score more against San Marino, one of the weakest teams in Europe. Of the other powerhouse teams in action, Spain hopes to follow up its 4-0 victory over Liechtenstein by winning at Northern Ireland, and England, which outplayed Andorra 5-0 on Saturday, visits Macedonia. Two of England's Group E rivals, Russia and Croatia, meet on Wednesday and Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has dropped three players from the team for partying at a nightclub where a brawl broke out. Strikers Ivica Olic, Bosko Balaban and Dario Srna will miss the game in Moscow. Portugal plays its first Group A game at Finland, and the Netherlands, which edged Luxembourg 1-0 on Saturday, hosts Belarus in Group G. (AP)