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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Italy face uphill battle
By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

Giovanni Trapattoni
The Italian team at Euro 2004 are determined to right a few wrongs - and they aim to do that by leaving as champions.

Their controversial exit at the hands of joint hosts South Korea at the World Cup two years ago remains an open wound.

Italy were left broken and bewildered by a succession of dubious refereeing decisions.

Then there was the defeat in the final of Euro 2000.

As England discovered on Sunday, playing against the French requires concentration right up until the final whistle.

Italy were seconds away from victory in Rotterdam four years ago when Sylvain Wiltord equalised.

The Italian players not involved were linked arm-in-arm on the sidelines ready to charge the pitch in wild celebration - but that moment never arrived.

The current Italian squad arrived in Portugal with their coach talking in terms of a six-game tournament for his players.

But on the evidence of their opening match against Denmark here in Guimaraes, this highly-fancied team have a lot of work to do if they are to leave as champions - as defender Alessandro Nesta admitted afterwards.

We will improve our condition and our conviction in the next few days
Giovanni Trapattoni
And Trapattoni then explained why to a demanding Italian press.

He argued that there is no lack of quality in the Italian squad but that the situation is a bit like painting a picture with a new set of brushes that you do not yet know how to use.

Trapattoni believes he has found a system capable of accommodating both Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero.

Del Piero started on the left against Denmark and Totti played in a more central role behind lone striker Christian Vieri.

But Vieri was often short of support against Denmark - cutting an isolated figure as he tried to hold up the ball against physical opponents - and at the start of the second half Del Piero had moved up front to partner him.

Trapattoni conceded afterwards that he had not expected Christian Poulsen to man-mark Totti.

And with their playmaker struggling to exert any influence on the game in the first half, Italy were badly stretched and could not get the ball to Vieri.

Totti's performance was also the subject of intense interrogation when Trapattoni faced the Italian media.

The coach defended his star player, arguing that his team were so poor in the first half they could not get the ball to Totti anyway.

Denmark, compact and physically very strong, took the match to their opponents from the opening whistle, while Italy appeared to labour in the intense heat.

Questions were asked of the Italian team's fitness - but they have undergone some intense fitness work that Trapattoni hopes will pay dividends later in the tournament.

Italy gave the ball away far too often and would have been punished against more clinical opponents, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was far too busy for the Italian media's liking.

But the crucial problem Italy must rectify if they are to justify their billing as one of the favourites is that they must play with the right mental attitude to match their system.

For the last six months Trapattoni has deployed a more attacking system with considerable success.

But against Denmark a line-up that included both Totti and Del Piero, Italy approached the game in a typically-Italian defensive frame of mind.

Quite simply, Trapattoni must make sure his team's mentality and tactics are synchronised if Italy are to have any chance of leaving Portugal having fulfilled their incredible desire for success.





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