Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Euro 2008 qualifying kicks off today


Italy's national team coach Roberto Donadoni, left, briefs the players during a practice session at Coverciano training ground near Florence, Italy, on Thursday. Italy plays Lithuania in a 2008 European Championship qualifier in Naples today.


Europe's soccer giants kick off a new age today with the continent's old rulers determined not to relinquish their iron grip on power.

Fifty teams are taking aim at the Euro 2008 finals which are being hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

The seven qualifying group winners and runners-up will make it through along with the hosts, but there is little likelihood of small fry like Andorra, in the west, and Kazakhstan, in the east, gatecrashing the party.

England, with Steve McClaren having replaced the unlamented Sven-Goran Eriksson after another miserable World Cup campaign, start their bid at home to little Andorra in Group E, a section which also includes Russia and Croatia.

World champions Italy, with Roberto Donadoni having taken over from Marcello Lippi, face Lithuania in Group B where France, the team they beat to lift the World Cup this summer, are also drawn.

Raymond Domenech's French, beginning a second life without Zinedine Zidane, travel to Georgia.

Germany, having bid a fond farewell to Jurgen Klinsmann, start at home against the Republic of Ireland in Group D.

England, despite missing the suspended Wayne Rooney and the injured Michael Owen, are expected to run up a huge score at Old Trafford against Andorra, a team who lost all 28 matches in the qualifiers for Euro 2000, World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004.

They have won just one qualifying match, a 1-0 win against Macedonia in last year's World Cup qualifying.

"We should beat Andorra quite comfortably," said England midfielder Steven Gerrard. "We've got to be ruthless. We must show people we mean business and finish them off."

Antonio Cassano is set to start for Italy against Lithuania in Naples before the Azzurri face a daunting trip to Paris to face France next Wednesday.

Today's Euro 2008 fixtures

Group A

Poland v Finland, Serbia v AzerbaijanGroup B

Georgia v France, Italy v Lithuania, Scotland v Faroe Islands Group C

Hungary v Norway, Moldova v Greece, Malta v Bosnia-Herzegovina Group D

Czech Republic v Wales, Slovakia v Cyprus, Germany v Republic of Ireland Group E

England v Andorra, Estonia v Israel Group F

Latvia v Sweden, Spain v Liechtenstein, Northern Ireland v Iceland Group G

Belarus v Albania, Luxembourg v Holland, Romania v Bulgaria Source: AFP

Cassano was overlooked by Lippi for the World Cup due to the 24-year-old forward's expanding wasteline and failure to hold down a regular place with Real Madrid.

"Cassano does these simple, little things that can turn matches," said the Italy coach. "He has his chance and I expect him to take it. He knows he has made mistakes in his career."

France enter the post-Zidane era in Tbilisi clouded by controversy over Claude Makelele's call-up.

The Chelsea star announced his retirement after the World Cup final loss but Domenech named him in his squad regardless stating: "He is a footballer, he is available for selection and if he doesn't come we can take appropriate action."

Domenech's stance has infuriated Makelele's club manager Jose Mourinho who accused the 57-year-old Frenchman him of treating the player like a "slave."

Domenech will revert to a twin attack with Thierry Henry set to be joined by Manchester United's Louis Saha, who is preferred to David Trezeguet.

In Stuttgart, Joachim Low and Steve Staunton make their competitive managerial debuts as Germany host the Republic of Ireland.

Spain begin their Group F campaign at home to Liechtenstein hoping to bounce back from their 3-1 World Cup second round defeat to France.

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