Shevchenko, Rooney seek to end slumps

Andriy Shevchenko is ailing with a virus and can't seem to score for Chelsea. Wayne Rooney has stopped scoring for Manchester United.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
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Andriy Shevchenko is ailing with a virus and can't seem to score for Chelsea. Wayne Rooney has stopped scoring for Manchester United. Shevchenko's poor form - and ill health - could be good news for struggling World Cup champion Italy, which hosts Ukraine when qualifying for the Euro 2008 championship resumes on Saturday. If Shevchenko recovers, it will be the striker's first return to Italy since he moved from AC Milan to Chelsea after last season. The game in Rome will be ideal motivation for him to return to scoring after contributing only one goal in seven appearances for the Blues. Shevchenko, who hasn't scored for Chelsea since August 23, is convinced the goals will come. "I am not sorry I have come to London," he said. "I have done well to choose to come here. My moment will come. Players go through difficult times, and it happens to everyone." Back from suspension, Rooney hopes to end his scoring drought at United's Old Trafford when he lines up for England against Macedonia. Although he scored twice in United's 5-1 victory over Fulham in the opening round of the Premier League, he has not hit the target since his return from a three-game domestic ban. The two matchups are among 22 on Saturday, with another 22 to follow on Wednesday. By then, most teams will have played four games and qualification for the tournament - co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland - will begin to take shape. Italy hopes it won't be falling behind. Next to last in Group B after a draw and a loss, Roberto Donadoni's team has five points to make up on pacesetters Scotland and France. Now the Italians meet the familiar face of Shevchenko, who scored 173 goals in seven seasons for Milan before his move to London. "We have a game against Sheva and company, one that we absolutely have to win," said Italy striker Luca Toni, who has been recalled to the national squad for the first time since the World Cup final penalty shootout victory over France in Berlin July 9. Shevchenko doubtful There's a chance, however, Shevchenko may not face the players he used to play against and alongside in Serie A. Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin said the striker was running a temperature of 101.3 Fahrenheit. "I don't know whether he will recover or not (to play against Italy)," Blokhin told reporters in Kiev three days before the game. Shevchenko's absence would be a big boost for an Italian team, which has struggled to a tie and two losses since the World Cup. Donadoni took over from Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to its fourth World Cup triumph, and rested most of the stars from Berlin. Although Francesco Totti has ruled himself out of international soccer for the next few months while he recovers from a leg operation, Donadoni now has most of the World Cup squad available again. Inter Milan defender Marco Materazzi is back after the suspension that followed the Zinedine Zidane headbutt in Berlin. Although he was the target of the French star's butt near the end of the World Cup final, the Italian defender was suspended for two games for provoking Zidane with insults. After a 3-1 victory over Italy at the Stade de France a month ago, Raymond Domenech's France team hopes to go top of the group by beating Scotland at Glasgow's Hampden Park on Saturday. Both teams have won their opening two games, and France has an easy match at home to the Faeroe Islands on Wednesday when the Scots have a tough visit to Ukraine. Although two teams qualify from each group, Scotland manager Walter Smith says there is a danger that France could run away with first place despite the retirement of Zidane. "The popular perception is that, after the World Cup, teams are not quite as good but I think France are proving that wrong," Smith said. "They have good players all over the pitch and I think that there is a togetherness allied to a level of ability. "I think they are a better side now than when they got to the World Cup final." England look to improve England is another side looking to improve after Steve McClaren replaced Sven-Goran Eriksson. After beating European champion Greece 4-0 in a friendly, the team tops Group E after shutouts victories over Andorra and Macedonia. Rooney missed all three games and now is likely to partner Peter Crouch, who has scored 11 goals in his last 10 England games. "Maybe if it's not going for him at club level, it's nice to get away for a fresh start," Crouch said of Rooney's slump in form for United. "He's looked lively in training and I'm sure he will be right come the game." Level on points with England, Israel has a tough game at Russia, while Croatia should make up ground with a home victory over Andorra before taking on England at home on Wednesday. Spain, needing to bounce back after a surprise 3-2 loss at Northern Ireland, has a difficult match at Group F leader Sweden. Veteran coach Luis Aragones changed his mind and recalled Raul Gonzalez after the Real Madrid striker was initially dropped for the first time in 10 years. Defending champion Greece, which began with a 1-0 victory at Moldova, has a tough game at Group C leader Norway, which has won both games so far. (AP)