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Italy brings a 30-year unbeaten streak into its Euro 2008 opener against the Netherlands

Italy brings a 30-year unbeaten streak into its Euro 2008 opener against the Netherlands

Italy opens the European Championship with the pressure that follows its World Cup victory two years ago. Even a 30-year undefeated streak against the Netherlands doesn't make the Azzurri rest easy.
"That's just a statistic like any other," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said ahead of Monday's match. "We all know what happened in the past, but that doesn't mean anything now. It doesn't let us rest easy."
Italy has not lost to the Netherlands since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, compiling a record of six wins and two draws over the past three decades _ including a penalty shootout win in the Euro 2000 semifinals.
"Statistics are important for the press, but on the field it's the current situation that counts," Donadoni said Sunday of the Group C opener.
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 the numbers either.
"It is just a coincidence. It just happens," Van Basten said.
Van Basten and Donadoni spent a large chunk of their playing careers together at AC Milan, under the guidance of one of Italy's top tacticians _ Arrigo Sacchi.
"Having both played for Sacchi, there's no doubting he had an impact on us. We both use some of his tactics," Donadoni said. "I've been friends with Van Basten for a long time. We've gone our separate ways, but we see each other once or twice a year and he's still a friend of mine."
Van Basten added of Donadoni: "I know him as a fighter. He does everything to win. If (Italy) plays like he is as a person, it is going to be a tough game."
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 injuring his groin in training Saturday, which could prompt Van Basten to play Robin van Persie.
"He is close to starting and you can interpret that however you want," Van Basten said of Van Persie.
Italy counters with high-scoring Luca Toni, the 1.93-meter (6-foot-4) striker who had 39 goals with Bayern Munich last season.
Toni should be flanked by Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi in 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. Right back Christian Panucci re-aggravated a right knee injury Friday, but his condition has improved.
"He trained at full force today," Donadoni said of Panucci. "The problem he had two days ago is completely gone."
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.
With Cannavaro out, Donadoni appears set to use Marco Materazzi and Andrea Barzagli in central defense. If Panucci doesn't start, Gianluca Zambrotta will likely move over to the right and Fabio Grosso will start at left back.
"I always decide the morning of the game," Donadoni said of his lineup.
Cannavaro received a special accreditation from UEFA president Michel Platini so he could remain with Italy at the tournament, but it is still unclear whether there will be a place for him on the bench or not.
Gianluigi Buffon will likely wear the captain's armband, since Alessandro Del Piero probably won't figure into the starting 11. Del Piero has 86 appearances to Buffon's 82.
"The captain will be determined by the number of appearances among those that go out on the field," Donadoni said. "We'll take it game by game."
Several of Italy's players had trouble with their footing on the slippery field at the Stade de Suisse in training Sunday, and rain is forecast for the game.
"If the conditions are the same as tonight, it could be dangerous," Donadoni said.
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AP Sports Writer Raf Casert contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-15 05:13 GMT+08:00