BADEN, Austria:Italy and France are accustomed to facing each other with titles and trophies on the line. This time, the World Cup champion and runner-up are trying to stave off elimination.
And they don't even control their own destiny.
"Nobody would have thought that Italy-France would be a last-ditch match," Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. "Before the European Championship, this was supposed to be the biggest match of the group."
The Netherlands turned all the pre-tournament prognostications upside down by routing Italy 3-0 and France 4-1 in its opening two games of Group C. If the Dutch let Romania win in their final group game, Italy and France will be eliminated.
"The finalists of today are not necessarily the finalists of tomorrow," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "Luckily _ otherwise (the sport) would be really boring."
The Netherlands leads the group with a full six points. Romania is next with two points and Italy and France trail with one each entering their game in Zurich, Switzerland.
"The winner can still hope (to qualify). It's not a nothing match," Domenech added. "We knew this group would be complicated. The status of World Cup champion or World Cup finalist does not automatically give you a ticket for the quarterfinals of the European Championship."
Italy's best hope of advancing is to beat France and hope the Netherlands holds Romania to at least a draw.
The Azzurri could also qualify if they draw with at least one goal against France and the Netherlands beats Romania. If Italy draws 0-0 with France, it needs the Netherlands to win by at least 3-0.
France's only option is to win and hope the Netherlands holds Romania to at least a draw.
"From what they tell me, we have a slightly better chance to qualify than (France), but it's too complicated for me to figure out," Buffon said. "The first thing we have to do is think about ourselves and beat France. Then we can look at the other game."
Italy and France have played some of the most memorable matches in recent memory.
In the 2006 World Cup final, Italy beat France on penalties after Zinedine Zidane was ejected for head butting Marco Materazzi in extra time. Zidane retired after that match, while the aging Materazzi was dropped from Italy's lineup after a poor performance against the Netherlands.
Italy and France also met twice in qualifying for this tournament. The French won 3-1 in Paris and the teams drew 0-0 in Milan.
France became the only team to follow a World Cup victory with a European Championship title by beating Italy with a golden goal in the Euro 2000 final.
France also beat Italy on penalties in the quarterfinals of the 1998 World Cup.
"When Italy plays France, you can't ignore all the history," Buffon said. "I think this game will be like a final _ or at least something similar."
Added Domenech, "The match in itself deserves to be appreciated."
Still, the importance of the game risks being usurped by the possibility of Romania beating an under-strength Dutch squad. The Netherlands could be motivated to let Romania win and thus eliminate Italy and France _ both possible semifinal opponents.
"If Romania wins, our match won't count for much," France striker Thierry Henry said. "But we have to put ourselves in the best position possible and then we'll see."
The Italians are counting on help from their old friend Marco van Basten, the Netherlands coach who used to team with Italy manager Roberto Donadoni at AC Milan.
"I think Van Basten wants to coach in Italy some day, maybe Milan, and I'm sure he'll want to present himself with an honest face," said former Italy manager Cesare Maldini.
Domenech was more resigned to the possibility that Van Basten will play mostly reserves.
"I won't blame them, I won't judge them," Domenech said. "They did what they had to do (to qualify). If we were in the same position, I would not want them asking questions about our team."
France is desperately hoping that captain Patrick Vieira will be fit enough to see his first action at the tournament after a small thigh tear in training more than two weeks ago.
"I will see how he is," Domenech said. "There is a chance."