Italy, Netherlands have something to prove

Updated: 15 June 2008 17:57 IST

Italy wants to show its World Cup victory was no fluke, and the Netherlands wants to show it is still capable of winning a major tournament.

BADEN, Austria:

Italy wants to show its World Cup victory was no fluke, and perennial underachiever the Netherlands wants to show it is still capable of winning a major tournament.

Both teams will have something to prove at the European Championship in Monday's Group C opener in Bern, Switzerland.

"We're the reigning World Cup champions and we're expected to win this European Championship," Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero said. "But they're two different types of competitions. Two years ago, everything went perfectly and that's going to be tough to repeat. But we're here to try."

It has been 20 years since the Netherlands won the European Championship for its only international trophy. Current coach Marco van Basten was the star of that tournament with five goals, yet he doesn't see any significance in his involvement again after two decades.

"It is just a coincidence. It just happens," Van Basten said.

Ruud van Nistelrooy is the current Netherlands striker of importance, and he is joined in attack by Real Madrid teammates Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, with Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart in support.

Winger Arjen Robben will miss the Italy game after picking up a groin injury in training on Saturday.

Italy counters with high-scoring Luca Toni, the 1.93-meter (6-foot-4) striker who had 39 goals with Bayern Munich last season.

How afraid is Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar of Toni?

"Very afraid," the Manchester United player said with a big laugh. "He is the main striker and you have to think about him, but it is not only Luca Toni. They have got a lot more good players. It is a well-balanced team."

Toni should be flanked by Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi in Italy coach Roberto Donadoni's preferred 4-3-3 lineup, with Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo joined by either Daniele De Rossi or Massimo Ambrosini in midfield.

Di Natale scored twice in Italy's 3-1 win over Belgium in a friendly last week.

The problems for both Italy and the Netherlands lie in defense.

Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out of the tournament after injuring his ankle in Italy's opening training session, and right back Christian Panucci is also hurting.

"Rather than being excuses, the injuries are going to motivate us more," Del Piero said.

The Netherlands don't have anyone tall enough to defend Toni, with the job likely falling to unsung John Heitinga or Andre Ooijer.

"Holland's attack is very strong and their defense less so, but it will still be a very difficult game," Panucci said.

Panucci will probably be relegated to the bench due to a right knee problem, with Gianluca Zambrotta moving over to right back and Fabio Grosso starting at left back. Marco Materazzi and Andrea Barzagli likely to play in central defense.

France meets Romania in the other Group C match in Zurich.

"Italy and France are the main teams and they are expected to go through," Van der Sar said. "It is one of the first times that Holland is not considered one of the favorites."

The match also pits former AC Milan teammates Van Basten and Donadoni, who took over as Italy's coach when Marcello Lippi resigned after the World Cup.

"I have a special feeling for Van Basten," Donadoni said. "I shared a good part of my playing career with him, and we both have a lot of respect for each other. We're still friendly. But those are personal things that you have to put aside when the game comes."

Panucci, the oldest member of Italy's squad at 35, was also briefly a teammate of Van Basten's at Milan.

"We played nine months together and I could see then how professional he was," Panucci said.

Panucci and Del Piero are the two senior members of Italy's team, none of whom have ever won a European Championship.

The Azzurri came close at Euro 2000 after beating the Netherlands on penalties in the semifinals. Italy led in the final before Sylvain Wiltord equalized in the 90th minute for France. David Trezeguet then scored a Golden Goal in extra time.

"That provides extra motivation," Del Piero said. "Not that this team needs any extra motivation."

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