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World Cup finalists Italy and France struggle in opening European Championship matches

World Cup finalists Italy and France struggle in opening European Championship matches

The World Cup finalists played like anything but that Monday at the European Championship.
Italy was played off the field by an inspired Netherlands, which beat the world champions 3-0 for the Italian team's most lopsided loss in the history of the European Championship.
France, which lost to Italy on penalties in the final in Berlin two years ago, was held to a 0-0 draw by Romania in an earlier Group C match.
As slow and uneventful as the first game was in Zurich, the Dutch put on quite a display in Bern, running through the Italian defense and controlling much of the play. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst scored the goals.
"It was a historic feat. This was Italy, the world champion," said Netherlands coach Marco van Basten, who led the Dutch team to the 1998 European title as a player. "I cannot name one player who played poorly."
On Friday, defending champion Greece plays its first match against Sweden in Salzburg, while Spain takes on Russia in Innsbruck in Group D.
Van Nistelrooy gave the Dutch the lead with a deflected 20-meter (yard) shot in the 26th minute. The Italians thought the Real Madrid striker was offside, and the Dutch may have agreed at first, but Van Nistelrooy's shot went past Gianluigi Buffon with defender Christian Panucci off the field next to the goal.
Sneijder volleyed the second past Buffon after Van Bronckhorst had cleared a ball off his own line and rushed up the left to send a defense-splitting pass to Dirk Kuyt on the right. Kuyt headed the ball on to Sneijder.
"This leaves us incredibly proud and with a great feeling," Sneijder said. "The first time is always incredibly important and to do this against Italy ... it gives us a lot of confidence. But we have to realize that it is not in the bag yet."
The defeat left Italy, which lost to the Soviet Union 2-0 in the 1988 semifinals for its previous worst result at the continental tournament, in last place in Group C. A defeat against the Romanians could send the Azzurri out by Friday.
"We have to accept this loss and look ahead to our next two games," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "That's the great thing about this (tournament). We face Romania right away and we need a win to restore our pride. We have to go out onto the field believing we can win."
France looked a lot like the team that was held to a 0-0 draw by Switzerland in its opening World Cup game two years ago.
"Maybe the French are bored with playing at the highest level and let us Romanians win a point," Romania coach Victor Piturca said. "My players are exhausted."
Playing without captain Patrick Vieira and record scorer Thierry Henry, France dominated possession but failed to penetrate the Romanian defense, which was led by Gabriel Tamas. Usual defender Cristian Chivu played in a midfield role as part of a conservative formation drawn up by Piturca.
Facing a similar task in Germany in 2006 with one point from one match, France coach Raymond Domenech was trying to look on the bright side.
"It's important not to lose to a direct opponent, so you can say it's positive," Domenech said. "It was not easy."
A day after the first Euro 2008 games were played in Austria, police said they temporarily detained about 200 people the night before.
Euro 2008 Interior Ministry spokesman Konrad Kogler said Monday the bulk of Sunday's detentions _ about 160 of 206 _ were made in the southern city of Klagenfurt, where Germany defeated Poland 2-0. The match had been billed as one of the more likely for fan violence, but no serious altercations were reported.


Updated : 2021-07-27 08:12 GMT+08:00