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Italians, Dutch set to match up

The faceoff between two of the top teams is expected to provide early highlights in Euro 2008.

June 09, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

World champion Italy and 2006 World Cup runner-up France launch their European Championship quests today when they play the Netherlands and Romania, respectively.

The Italians and the Dutch, two of the top teams in the 16-nation tournament being jointly staged by Austria and Switzerland, should provide one of the event's early highlights.

Both are attack-minded teams and both feature some of soccer's premier players.

The Dutch are relying on Ruud Van Nistelrooy to provide the goals -- supported by the likes of Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt -- and the Real Madrid player said he likes his team's options.

"In terms of attacking tactics, we are capable of putting some great moves together," Van Nistelrooy said.

The 32-year-old striker said he was inspired by having watched the Netherlands win Euro '88 in Germany, when he was only 12 and current Dutch Coach Marco Van Basten was one of Holland's stars.

"It was an incredible experience," he told Agence France-Presse. "On the day of the final, there was an incredible wave of euphoria in the country. Twenty years have gone by, and that is a long time. The time has come for another success. Our supporters deserve that."

While realizing the Dutch offensive prowess, the Italians are hoping to take advantage of their perceived defensive shortcomings.

"The Netherlands are a very strong team with good ball possession and top-level forwards," defender Christian Panucci said. "Maybe they concede a bit at the back, and we must be brave to take advantage of it."

So far in Euro 2008, the match favorites have all won. Following victories by the Czech Republic and Portugal in Switzerland on Saturday, Croatia and Germany both scored shutout victories in Austria on Sunday.

A fourth-minute penalty kick goal by midfield playmaker Luka Modric and some stout, if sometimes desperate, defending was enough to give Croatia a 1-0 win over Austria in Vienna.

In Klagenfurt, meanwhile, Germany kept intact its 75-year unbeaten run against Poland as Polish-born forward Lukas Podolski scored both goals in a 2-0 German win that sent the tournament favorite to the top of Group B.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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