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World champions facing fight for survival

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 10 Jun 2008

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Italy coach Roberto Donadoni insisted the world champions can win their battle for Euro 2008 survival despite a traumatic demolition by Holland in their opening match.

The Italians, who badly missed the steadying influence of injured captain Fabio Cannavaro, have been left with their backs to the wall in group C as a result of Monday night's 3-0 defeat.

But the encounter was not without encouraging elements for Donadoni and, but for the brilliance of Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, the evening could easily have had a different complexion.

“Holland played as well as we expected them to,” Donadoni said. “We knew they were a team that could give us problems and they did.

“We made mistakes and we paid for them. Now we have to absorb the lessons and look forward.

“The next game, against Romania, is going to be crucial. We just have to forget about this defeat and move on. The game started badly for us and ended up worse but it is already history.”

Donadoni dismissed a suggestion that complacency could have contributed to his side's downfall.

“I don't think there was any complacency. Winning the World Cup is not a sufficient goal for us and we have been working very hard and professionally in preparing for this tournament for the last two years.

“The result was not good, obviously, and we are not happy about it but we are going to work to ensure we react to it and improve.

“I trust my boys and we carry on in the knowledge that the next game is even more important.”

The significance of Italy's defeat was reduced by the fact that France and Romania drew their opening match 0-0. “In light of our result, we are quite happy that France and Romania drew,” Donadoni admitted. “It goes to our advantage. But it also shows Romania are a difficult team. It is going to be a tough game for us and getting a win is going to be really important.”

Given that they finally managed to carve out some good chances, albeit very late in the game, it will be the tentative nature of Italy's defending against the Dutch that is of most concern to Donadoni.

Marco Materazzi, the defender who famously provoked Zinedine Zidane into head-butting him during the last World Cup final, was a poor replacement for Cannavaro and was substituted ten minutes into the second half.

Officially the change was made because of a calf strain but it seems unlikely that even a fully fit Materazzi will be asked to start against the Romanians here on Thursday.

Donadoni also has a dilemma in attack. Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni had a poor game by his standards and although Antonio di Natale was their brightest performer early on, it was only after his departure and the introduction of Alessandro del Piero and Antonio Cassano that Italy began to show their class.

Del Piero said: “We all have to share the blame but the most important thing is to focus immediately on Romania. We've got a lot of regrets but there is also a desire to turn our situation around. We need to beat Romania and that will require a big performance.”

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was named as captain in Cannavaro's absence, admitted Monday night would go down as “one of the worst of my career.”

The Juventus keeper added: “Holland deserved their win. I think it is my duty, in the name of myself and my team-mates, to apologise to all the Italian supporters. I hope in the next match we will rediscover the pride that was lacking in this one.”

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