Euro 2008: Italy faces uphill battle

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Italy is in danger of failing to qualify for Euro2008 following a 0-0 draw with France on Saturday.

Updated: September 12, 2007 17:14 IST
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Milan, Italy:

Italy may not get a chance to add a European Championship title to its World Cup triumph.

The Azzurri are in danger of failing to qualify for Euro 2008 following a 0-0 draw with France on Saturday.

France leads Group B with 19 points. Scotland is next with 18 points, followed by Italy with 17. Each team has four games remaining and only the top two in the group qualify.

"People may think that we're like Brazil. But we're not a team like that," Italy midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. "We won the World Cup by fighting for it."

Italy can begin fighting its way back up the standings against Ukraine on Wednesday but the Azzurri will be without Gattuso, who picked up a yellow card.

When Italy won its previous World Cup in 1982 it didn't qualify for the 1984 European Championship.

"As far as the standings are concerned, it's wide open - but I'm not making any calculations," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said, adding that he isn't worried. "Absolutely not. Not now at least. But maybe in two months."

The closest either team came to scoring was when Italy forward Filippo Inzaghi's shot grazed the top of the crossbar in the 34th minute.

Otherwise, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Italy's defence proved too good for France forwards Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka, and Alessandro Del Piero and Inzaghi were too slow down the other end.

"We were too timid," Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro said. "We needed to be more incisive, with more will to win."

Italy hasn't beaten France without the help of penalties since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The Azzurri won last year's World Cup final in a shootout, then lost in France 3-1 two months later to open Euro 2008 qualifying.

"We knew there was a lot of talk surrounding this match," France midfielder Patrick Vieira said. "We were very focused over the 90 minutes, and we saw a very well organised French team. It's a good result."

France coach Raymond Domenech watched from the tribune after he was suspended for accusing Italy of fixing an Olympic qualifying match eight years ago.

Italian fans whistled during the French national anthem.

"It wasn't nice," Donadoni said, adding that Domenech's comments "may have played a role."

Tense buildup

Following the tense buildup to the latest installment of the rivalry, both squads started aggressively.

France midfielder Claude Makelele was shown a yellow card in the sixth minute for rough play and Lilian Thuram was bleeding after a clash of heads with fellow defender Julien Escude.

France used its speed to assert itself, with Henry setting up Florent Malouda, who sent the ball wide in the game's first shot in the 10th.

Cannavaro slid in and nearly redirected in Andrea Pirlo's corner kick for Italy's first chance in the 14th.

Three minutes later, Anelka slipped into Italy's area and was set up by Franck Ribery but couldn't find the target.

Italy had trouble penetrating France's defense, with Eric Abidal doing a good job of shutting down Massimo Oddo on Italy's right flank.

Gattuso was cautioned for tripping Makelele in the 31st.

Mauro Camoranesi and Del Piero combined on a crafty play inside the area in the 33rd but France goalkeeper Mickael Landreau had no problem stopping Del Piero's weak shot.

As Italy started organizing itself, Inzaghi's attempt from a sharp angle up the left flank grazed the top of the crossbar.

Ribery's long shot went wide in the 42nd and Buffon stopped Malouda's powerful attempt from beyond the area in the 43rd as France tried to beat the Azzurri from outside the box.

Neither team made any changes at halftime and Italy took the initiative with a series of corner kicks and a long shot from Camoranesi that Landreau had to tip over the bar in the 50th.

Two minutes later, Buffon smothered a close-range effort from Anelka.

In the 56th, Henry was cautioned for tripping Cannavaro as Italy started a counterattack.

A few minutes later, Pirlo set up Del Piero at the edge of the area but Del Piero couldn't get by two defenders.

Cristiano Lucarelli replaced Inzaghi in the 65th but the Azzurri couldn't get the ball to the tall forward.

"Tactically neither team wanted to go for it, so I think a draw is a good result for us," Thuram said.

Italy sorely missed Bayern Munich forward Luca Toni, who is out with a thigh injury.

Also out was Marco Materazzi, recovering from thigh surgery. The recipient of Zinedine Zidane's head butt in last year's World Cup final, Materazzi sat in the stands with a shirt that read "I love Paris."

Before the match, highlights of Italy's victory over France in the World Cup were shown on the stadium jumbo screen, drawing roars of delight from the capacity crowd of 80,000 at the San Siro stadium.

Also, there was a tribute to fallen opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, with a few of his arias pumped through the public address system before the players came out onto the field.

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