aim to go one better
Having qualified for Portugal, Italy's thoughts soon turned to
four years ago when they were denied by a last-minute
equaliser and golden goal in the EURO 2000 final. However,
they enter the new year full of optimism after a good 2003 in
which they won nine out of eleven matches, with only one
defeat by Poland in a November friendly.
Thursday, 29 January 2004
their superb comeback to overhaul Wales in qualifying, the
Azzurri are preparing to face Group C rivals Sweden, Denmark
and Bulgaria in Portugal. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who has
denied recent reports that he is set to take over England's
Tottenham Hotspur next summer, is cautious, even though the
Italian press hailed the draw as kind. "In modern
football there are no teams who can dominate a
competition," he said. "Just look at Brazil. They
have just failed to qualify for the next Olympic games even
though they were clear favourites."
Should Trapattoni opt for the former, Internazionale's
Christian Vieri would be the only striker with Mauro
Camoranesi, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero playing
just behind him. But the coach could also decide to use two
forwards. In this case, Filippo Inzaghi, who has been
struggling with injuries, could find a place in the team.
Fabrizio Miccoli and Antonio Cassano's fine form have brought
them into contention too.
Cassano, indeed, can point to his special relationship on and
off the pitch with Roma team-mate Totti. "We have six
months to convince Trapattoni," said Totti after
Cassano's debut in the 3-1 defeat by Poland when the
21-year-old scored the only goal for Italy.
Trapattoni has fewer options in defence, with Alessandro Nesta
and Fabio Cannavaro in the middle and Gianluca Zambrotta on
the left. The only doubt is the right side with the
experienced Christian Panucci in contention with Massimo Oddo
and Daniele Bonera.
In midfield, Trapattoni has several seasoned campaigners like
Cristiano Zanetti, Simone Perrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Alessio
Tacchinardi, Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso. During the
qualifying campaign he fielded Zanetti and Perrotta in all the
key matches and the pair look favourite to play in Portugal,
though Zanetti has been troubled by injuries of late.
Italy are certainly not playing it safe in their warm-ups,
with the Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain, all strong
contenders for the European crown, lined up as friendly
opponents. Trapattoni has no doubts who the key man will be.
"Totti is the right age to be a real leader," the
coach declared. "He makes everything look simple. I am
praying he will be in perfect condition during the summer
because he is so important for us." -
By Paolo Menicucci