Riot-stuck Italy seeks victory

Conquering psychological barriers could pose a greater obstacle to Italy's European Championship destiny than Scotland's bruising attack.

updated: November 17, 2007 07:55 IST
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Glasgow, Scotland:

Conquering psychological barriers could pose a greater obstacle to Italy's European Championship destiny than Scotland's bruising attack.

Preparations for Saturday's crunch qualifier in Glasgow have been impeded by the fallout from the crowd disturbances that swept across Italy last weekend after a Lazio fan was fatally shot by a policeman.

"I would be lying if I said that this situation has not affected us - we wouldn't be human otherwise," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will join the rest of the squad in wearing black armbands to honor 26-year-old Gabriele Sandri.

"Although we will not forget what has happened, we are focused on this weekend's game.

"If we are able to get a good result in Scotland and qualify, we would dedicate it to the family of the victim. It would be the best present we could give them."

Rioting soccer fans earlier this year were a major factor in costing Italy the chance to host the 2012 European Championship.

Now defeat on the pitch could stop the Azzurri reaching the 2008 edition if they can't focus on dispatching Scotland when they arrive in Glasgow on Friday.

Claiming a point at Hampden Park will suffice with victory a near-certainty four days later against the Faroe Islands - without a point in Group B.

"Taking the field looking for a draw would mean that you risk losing the game," said Luca Toni, who is expected to lead the forward line, supported by Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi.

Italy - unbeaten in eight matches - wants to re-establish itself as the World Cup wining force from 2006 and end Scotland's hopes of reaching Euro 2008.

Defeat would mean relying on Ukraine upsetting France as it plays the Faroes next Wednesday.

Italy is third in Group B with 23 points, trailing Scotland by one and France by two.

"We have worked with our feet firmly in the ground, not influenced by the fact that we are world champions," Buffon said. "Not to qualify, for us players, would be a big blow."

Captain Fabio Cannavaro is back after being suspended for last month's Georgia match and is set to partner Andrea Baragli in central defense, flanked by Fabio Grosso and Christian Panucci.

Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini are likely to form an all AC Milan midfield force.

On home soil in March, Italy triumphed 2-0 over Scotland, with Toni netting twice.

"Scotland already showed their strength," Buffon said. "They are physical and that is their biggest weapon. But they have good players, especially in attack, like Kenny Miller and James McFadden and we will have to keep a close eye on them."

Miller is prepared to get physical to send Scotland to a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup.

"If you have to kick them, you kick them," Miller said. "They are not too good to be touched and that's the way we have to approach the game and that's what has brought us our success over the last few years."

When Italy and France were drawn together in Group B, Scotland wasn't considered much of a threat.

Now the Tartan terrors are fearless, having established themselves as the surprise outfit in Europe, beating France home and away.

The revival even survived the managerial upheaval in January, which saw Walter Smith return to club management with Rangers and Alex McLeish filling the void.