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  Euro Stars    Alessandro Nesta


Classy Nesta is crucial to Italy's chances
Alessandro Nesta
It is taken for granted that Italy will present themselves at a major tournament with one of the tightest defences in the world.

Tight marking, incisive tackling and astute reading of the intentions of their opponents appear to be in the DNA of Italian defenders and Alessandro Nesta is the model Serie A centre half.

The AC Milan defender's ball control is as good as that of many of the forwards he thwarts on a regular basis in Serie A and his vision when he is moving out of defence with the ball at his feet is exemplary.

Strangely though, Nesta is now something of a rarity in Serie A where the flow of quality defenders has dried up in recent years.

While there are no concerns about the reliability of Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro in the centre of defence, the lack of experienced cover worries many Italians going into next month's European Championship.

With his club team mate Paolo Maldini having retired from the national side after the 2002 World Cup finals, Nesta, although only 28, is one of the most experienced members of the current Italy squad.

He already has 58 caps and four major tournaments under his belt in a career in which responsibility has been thrust upon him since an early age.

He was born in Rome, signed for Lazio as a schoolboy and made his debut for the current Italian champions in March 1994, six days before his 18th birthday.

He made his international debut as a 20-year-old in Italy's World Cup qualifier against Moldova in October 1996 and cemented his place alongside Cannavaro at the Tournoi de France the following year.

After two outstanding performances in Italy's opening matches of France '98 he tore ligaments in their first-round tie against Austria and went home on crutches.

But he was at the heart of the defence upon which Italy's runners-up spot in Euro 2000 was built.

The World Cup in South Korea and Japan revealed just how much the Italy defence relies on Nesta -- he hobbled out of the second group game against Croatia and the backline looked exposed as Italy fell to a 2-1 defeat which they never really recovered from.

Nesta's badly bruised foot was patched up and he was sent out to play in the final group game against Mexico but was then unable to recover in time to feature in the second-round match against co-hosts South Korea.

Without him the Italians suffered a humiliating 'golden goal' defeat.

Last season Nesta showed his worth in a more positive manner when, following his move to Milan, he played a major role in the club's sixth European Cup win.

Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni will hope he displays equally good form in Portugal.
- Simon Evans




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