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Italy 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


Following 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




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