Under new coach Roberto Donadoni, Italy looked far from convincing as they launched their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign by drawing 1-1 at home to minnows Lithuania and losing 3-1 away to a France side desperate for revenge after their World Cup final defeat at the hands of the Azzurri. But Italy recovered from those early setbacks and were not beaten again as they won nine of their last 10 qualifiers to top their group ahead of the French.
The goalscoring prowess of striker Luca Toni proved crucial as he bagged a brace in the 2-0 home win over Scotland. He also struck in the 2-1 victory at Hampden Park, where defender Christian Panucci produced a late winner and Italy secured qualification for themselves and France. A 3-1 win against the Faroe Islands saw the Italians win the group, just as they had done in reaching the finals of Euro 2004.
Old foes Italy and France were thrown together again when drawn in the Euro 2008 “group of death” along with Holland and Romania, making Donadoni’s task – to ensure his nation perform far better than they did four years ago – even tougher. Despite being unbeaten in three matches, they fell at the first hurdle as Sweden and Denmark finished above them.
Italy have only one European Championship title to their name. In 1968, as the host nation of what was then the European Nations Cup, they beat Yugoslavia 2-0 in a final replay after a 1-1 draw. Qualification for Euro 2008 means the four-time World Cup winners – they were triumphant in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – have reached the last four European Championship finals tournaments.
Two of Italy’s biggest threats are Luca Toni and Andrea Pirlo. Striker Toni was an itinerant in Italy before coming to prominence with Fiorentina. He joined German giants Bayern München last summer and the move has proved a huge success. He was also a member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning side. The dynamic Pirlo is AC Milan’s midfield playmaker. He scored in the shoot-out in Italy’s 2006 World Cup final victory over France after his corner had set up Marco Materazzi’s equaliser early in the game. Pirlo was named man of the match.
Italy Euro 2008 Squad
Head coach: Roberto Donadoni
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