Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Italy, France train thoughts to finals

KAUNAS SHOWDOWN The French will be looking to improve on their showing against Austria in September, while Italy are aiming to stay on top of Group Eight

AFP , PARIS

France coach Raymond Domenech leads his team during a training session on Wednesday in Clairefontaine, France, ahead of their World Cup 2010 qualifying match today against Lithuania in Kaunas.

PHOTO: AFP

Reigning champions Italy and 2006 runners-up France can train their thoughts firmly on reaching the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa if successful in qualifiers in the next few days. France have a double-header against Lithuania today, away, and then on Wednesday in Paris, while Italy travel to Montenegro before a top-of-the-table clash against Republic of Ireland in Bari.

French coach Raymond Domenech, whose performance is still under the microscope from a demanding French media, leads his side in Kaunas today with the aim of shoring up their weakness against freekicks. Center-back Philippe Mexes has battled back after his disastrous showing in the 3-1 defeat to Austria in September, when he was at fault in all three goals.

“We have to be able to suffer. Those who imagine we will win easily by making neat one-twos in the opposition’s box don’t realize we will have a fight on our hands and we’ll need to be very solid,” Domenech said.

Conceding goals from freekicks has cursed France since the World Cup final.

Defender Gael Clichy said: “Before the Austria game, we really worked hard on freekicks yet conceded two goals from them. We have players who can head a ball well but they aren’t necessarily the most physically strong either,” he said.

“We know teams like Lithuania will try to take advantage of that so it’s up to use to avoid conceding too many corners and making fouls on the edge of our box,” he said.

Serbia lead Group Seven from Lithuania, both on nine points from four matches, while France are third with four points from a match less. Romania host Serbia in the other game in the pool.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi gave a hint as to his starting team for today’s match in Montenegro by separating 11 players from his squad to work alone in midweek training. The “team” comprised goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, center-backs Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini, full-backs Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso, midfielders Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Angelo Palombo and forwards Vincenzo Iaquinta, Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella.

Italy head Group Eight ahead of the Republic of Ireland, both on 10 points. Montenegro are fourth in the six-team group with two points and have yet to win a match.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Albert Riera warned his Spanish teammates that Turkey, who face the Euro 2008 champions today, are a “very aggressive” team which “plays as one.”

“Turkey is a proud team, very patriotic,” he said. “They have a very aggressive game, hard. It’s a team that plays as one,” the midfielder said.

Germany captain Michael Ballack wants a solid win as much as a goal-bonanza today when his side tackle minnows Liechtenstein following back-to-back home defeats.

Losses to Norway in February and England last November have dented confidence and the Germans need a convincing win over tiny Liechtenstein.

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