Who would have thought it would come to this? When the draw for the Euro 2008 finals was made last December, few people envisaged that the two 2006 World Cup finalists would be battling for survival in their final group game. Moreover, neither side has their fate in their own hands – as a victory for Romania in their game with Holland, will mean that both France and Italy will be eliminated.
“This is the kind of game every player dreams of being involved in,” France coach Raymond Domenech said, while his Italian counterpart Roberto Donadoni said: “We know what’s at stake and we’re ready to put our hearts and souls into it. For us, this is already a final.”
It promises to be a dramatic evening, although Domenech is urging his men to concentrate on events at the Letzigrund Stadion.
“We have to forget the other game completely,” he stressed. “We still have a tiny chance but it will only happen if we win our game.”
France suffered their heaviest defeat in European Championship history in losing 4-1 against Holland – and Domenech acknowledges that improvements are needed.
“We’ve been trying to get the Dutch game out our heads for the last three days,” the 56-year-old said. “Despite the result, there were positives to take from the performance, notably concerning the number of chances we created. But we need to find a balance.
“Against Romania we made a lot of effort to defend, whereas against the Netherlands we made a lot of effort to attack. Against Italy we’ll need to do a lot of defending and attacking.”
Domenech will again be without Patrick Vieira due to a thigh injury and, Eric Abidal, Lassana Diarra and Karim Benzema are all being tipped to feature after missing out last time. There is speculation that Domenech will drop veteran defender Lilian Thuram, with Abidal being drafted in to the back four as a makeshift central defender.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni was also giving little away about his selection, saying: “I already have a good idea of my lineup, but this time I won’t reveal anything beforehand.”
The former Milan midfielder is not expected to repeat the five changes he made for the 1-1 draw with Romania, although Antonio Cassano may start in place of Alessandro Del Piero, while Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso could earn recalls.
Ever since David Trezeguet’s extra-time winner in the Euro 2000 final, there has been a keen rivalry between the two sides. Italy gained revenge for the Rotterdam defeat by triumphing in Berlin two years ago, yet Domenech’s side reclaimed the upper hand with a victory in Paris in qualifying.
Donadoni, however, played down the significance of the rivalry, saying: “It’s just like any other game. It’s an important game, but playing France is no different to playing the Netherlands or Romania. Both sides will be extremely motivated and will try to win. It should be exciting. I can’t wait for the game to start.”