Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 19 News List

No rest for World Cup stars as Euro qualifying begins

AP , LONDON

The qualifying tournament for the 2008 European Championship begins tomorrow, only about five weeks after the World Cup final was played in Berlin.

International soccer hasn't had much of a break.

Although powerhouse teams such as World Cup champion Italy are only playing friendlies, they will be in competitive action in three weeks.

In qualifying this week, Belgium hosts Kazakhstan, the Faroe Islands takes on Georgia, and Estonia plays Macedonia as 44 European teams begin the journey toward the final tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

World Cup runner-up France hopes to bounce back from the agony of that penalty shootout loss to Italy by winning a friendly at Bosnia-Herzegovina tonight. The same night, Spain, which flopped in Germany after an impressive start, visits Iceland.

Reigning European champion Greece goes to Old Trafford tomorrow to face an England team which has Steve McClaren in charge for the first time. The same night, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are among big European teams in action while five-time World Cup winner Brazil goes to Norway for Dunga's first game as coach.

Some big names will be missing when the teams take the field.

France great Zinedine Zidane, sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final, has retired and David Beckham, his former Real Madrid teammate, has been dropped by England.

There is no Wayne Rooney, either. Suspended for England's first two Euro 2008 qualifying group games against Andorra and Macedonia because of his red card against Portugal at the World Cup, the Manchester United striker has not been considered for the friendly against the Greeks. McClaren is set to field a new-look strikeforce with West Ham's Dean Ashton likely to make his debut.

Italy's new coach, Roberto Donadoni, has given almost the entire World Cup squad a break. Of the 23 in Germany, only No. 3 goalkeeper Marco Amelia will face Croatia in Livorno tomorrow.

Ronaldo, Kaka and Ronaldinho were left out of Brazil's squad to face the Norwegians in Oslo but could be recalled when the team goes on to play friendlies against Argentina and Wales in London early next month.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose career seemed to be over a year ago after several operations to repair a serious knee injury, is back in the Norway squad at age 33.

Netherlands coach Marco van Basten caused quite a stir by dropping striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid, and FC Barcelona midfielder Mark van Bommel.

With Zidane retired, France made midfielder Patrick Vieira captain, and the midfielder changed clubs. After Juventus was relegated as punishment for its part in a match-fixing scandal that shocked Italian soccer, Vieira transferred to Inter Milan.

France head coach Raymond Domenech will also be without Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele for the visit to Bosnia, but he hopes to persuade them to carry on playing for the national team, especially when the Euro 2008 qualifying games come around against Georgia and Italy.

The squad that won Italy's fourth World Cup should be well rested by then.

Donadoni replaced Marcello Lippi and, for his first game in charge, he has named seven newcomers.

By contrast, Spain coach Luis Aragones has kept faith with the squad that started so well at the World Cup with a 4-0 victory over Ukraine but lost 3-1 in the second round to France.

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