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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Italy, France hang on by a thread

Italy, France hang on by a thread

June 14, 2008 14:58 IST

World Cup winners Italy and runners-up France were in danger of tumbling out of Euro 2008 at the group stage after the Italians were held 1-1 by Romania and a superb Netherlands humbled the French 4-1 on Friday.

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Following their 3-0 thrashing of Italy in their opening Group C match, the Dutch produced another marvellous display, with fit-again winger Arjen Robben setting up one goal and hammering another from a near-impossible angle.

The Dutch goals capped another thrilling day of action on the seventh day of a tournament which has been generally characterised by attacking play, cleanly contested.

There were also no reports of any serious fan trouble.

Earlier, Italy had keeper Gianluigi Buffon to thank for maintaining a slim chance of making the quarter-finals in the June 7-29 tournament in Switzerland and Austria with a late penalty save at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich.

The Juventus goalkeeper pulled off a stunning stop to keep out former team mate Adrian Mutu's penalty, leaping to his left and palming the ball on to his foot and away from goal.

Mutu had earlier given the Romanians a surprise lead when he pounced on a misjudged header from Gianluca Zambrotta but defender Christian Panucci equalised shortly after, prodding the ball in from Giorgio Chiellini's downward header.

In Berne, Dirk Kuyt put the Netherlands ahead after nine minutes, outmuscling Florent Malouda to head home from a corner.

Substitute Robin van Persie volleyed home Robben's cross in the 59th minute before Thierry Henry briefly got France back in the game with a deft close-range touch past Edwin van der Sar.


French hopes were dashed a minute later, however, when Robben fired a fierce shot into the roof of the net and Wesley Sneijder provided the icing on the cake in injury time with a powerful drive that went in off the underside of the bar.

It was France's biggest major tournament defeat for 50 years since Brazil beat them 5-2 in the 1958 World Cup.

Italy and France play each other in their final group match next Tuesday knowing that even a victory may not be enough if the Romanians beat the Dutch who may rest some players now.

The thrilling action on the pitch was a welcome distraction from the anger that erupted in Poland over Thursday's penalty decision that gave Austria an injury-time equaliser (1-1) in their Group B match in Vienna.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he felt like he wanted to kill English referee Howard Webb, who pointed to the spot after ruling that Mariusz Lewandowski pulled Sebastian Proedl's shirt and brought him down.

"As the prime minister I have to be balanced and collected," keen soccer fan Donald Tusk told reporters.

"But last night I was speaking very differently about the whole thing, I wanted to kill."

European governing body UEFA defended the verdict as absolutely correct, however, on Friday and a similar decision was taken by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo in awarding Friday's penalty against Italy which Buffon saved.

Anger was also in evidence among stall-holders trying to sell their wares at special fan areas set up in Austria and Switzerland, hit by poor weather and a lack of customers.

Klagenfurt, the smallest of the eight Euro 2008 host cities in Austria and Switzerland, has been forced to halve rental rates for disappointed stallholders who fear huge losses.

Traders at the fan village camping facility in Geneva, who had to pay a fee of 35,000 swiss francs (17,200 pounds) for the right to set up a stall, threatened to strike because of the lack of customers and said they felt cheated by organisers.

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