Italy keep hopes alive

Updated: 15 June 2008 17:59 IST

In the second half, Italy's Panucci scored the equalising goal against Romania in their Group C match of the Euro 2008.

Italy keep hopes alive

BADEN, Austria:

The World Cup champions are already facing elimination from the European Championship after only one game. If the Azzurri lose to Romania on Friday, they will be out of contention before facing rival France four days later. A draw won't help much, either.

"This is the classic do or die match," defender Gianluca Zambrotta said. "We've got to give our maximum and fight for every ball. The only result we're interested in is a victory."

Italy was routed 3-0 by the Netherlands in its Group C opener, while Romania held France to a 0-0 draw that was characterized by few scoring chances at both ends.

"Clearly, Romania does not concede much, but we had five or six chances against Holland and we just didn't put the ball in," Italy center forward Luca Toni said. "We've got to take advantage of our chances this time."

Toni's former teammate at Fiorentina is standout Romania forward Adrian Mutu.

"I think the game against Italy will be like the one against France," Mutu said. "From a physical point of view, we are all in good shape, but our rivals (Italy) are more skilled than we are."

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni could make wholesale lineup changes for the match in Zurich, Switzerland, inserting Fabio Grosso and Giorgio Chiellini in defense, Daniele De Rossi in midfield and Alessandro Del Piero in attack.

Del Piero replaced Antonio Di Natale alongside Toni in the second half against the Netherlands, with Antonio Cassano also coming on.

"We were more offensive with Alessandro and Antonio, the entire squad moved forward more. They're very offensive players," Toni said. "But the coach has to make his choices without shifting the balance too much.

"It's not a question of who my partner is. By the end, Di Natale, Del Piero and Cassano all played and nobody scored. It doesn't matter who scores. Even (goalkeeper Gianluigi) Buffon could score against Romania. The important thing is that we get the three points."

Romania coach Victor Piturca doesn't have such a wealth of options in attack, but he is expecting Mutu to perform better, after pulling the ineffective forward 12 minutes from the end against France.

Piturca has promised that "the real Mutu" -- the player who scored 17 goals in Serie A last season -- will show up against Italy.

Mutu isn't the only member of Romania's squad familiar with the Italians.

In all, six players on Romania's squad are either currently based in Italy or have played there before.

Captain Christian Chivu plays for Italian champion Inter Milan, midfielder Paul Codrea is employed by Siena and defender Stefan Radu is with Lazio. Also, defender Cosmin Contra played for AC Milan in 2001-02 and goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont recently left Fiorentina.

"The Azzurri's situation suits us. The pressure is on Italy," Chivu said. "They have to win, while a draw would be fine for us. But we're going to give our all. Let's not forget that everyone said we would finish last in this group. We're determined to show what we're worth.

Romania striker Ciprian Marica injured his head during training on Tuesday, and his availability is uncertain.

If Italy is eliminated, it won't mark the first time it follows up a good World Cup with a bad European Championship.

After the Azzurri won the 1982 World Cup, they didn't even qualify for the 1984 Euros. A third-place finish at the 1990 World Cup was followed by another failed qualifying campaign, and a runner-up performance at the 1994 World Cup preceded a first-round exit at Euro 1996 in England.

"When Italy is down to its last chance, it pulls out its best," insisted Toni. "We realize how important this game is. There is no more room for mistakes."

The match takes place amid tensions surrounding the 560,000-strong Romanian community in Italy.

In the past months, Romanians have been blamed for a series of violent crimes, and Italian police have raided Gypsy camps in Rome while attackers have set fire to shacks where Gypsies lived on the outskirts of Naples.

"Romanians in Italy or Italians in Romania, here we're all in Switzerland," Chivu said. "So if we beat Italy, I'll only be happy because we've advanced from the group, not for other reasons."

Contra added: "The game could be a chance to create a little peace."



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