Italy gets France and Netherlands in Euro draw

December 2, 2007

LUCERNE, Switzerland -- World Cup champion Italy was drawn Sunday with France, the Netherlands and Romania in what appears to be the most difficult first-round group for next year's European Championship.

Italy defeated France on penalty kicks in last year's World Cup final, then played the French twice in Euro qualifying, losing 3-1 at Saint-Denis and drawing 0-0 in Milan. The French rallied to beat Italy 2-1 in overtime in the 2000 Euro final.

"We didn't have an easy qualification and now we have a very difficult group," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "We were unfortunate in the draw, but I had a gut feeling this morning that it would turn out like this."

Group C will be based in Switzerland, and Italy and France will meet in their final first-round match, on June 17 in Zurich.

The tournament opens June 7 when co-host Switzerland plays the Czech Republic in Basel. Austria is the other co-host, and the final is in Vienna on June 29.

Italy and the Netherlands met in the Euro 2000 semifinals, with the Italians winning a penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie. France beat the Dutch in a shootout after a 0-0 draw in the 1996 quarterfinals. The French also are in the same qualifying group as Romania for the 2010 World Cup 2010.

"I think there are coaches who are happier today than the four here," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "I would have preferred to avoid all of the other three teams in the group, but that's what we got and we have to live with it."

Marco van Basten, whose Dutch team is struggling to find its form, also said it was not the draw he wanted.

"A very tough group. Two World Cup finalists," he said of the Italians and the French. "These are great teams, great players, teams with a lot of experience. It's going to be very difficult for us, we have to play Italy first, then France."

Defending European champion Greece was drawn into Group D with Russia, Spain and Sweden, and will be based in Austria. At Euro 2004 in Portugal, the Greeks drew 1-1 with Spain and lost 2-1 to Russia in group play, but beat all its other opponents on the way to a surprise title.

"It is certainly not an easy group," Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, said. "We must be careful against Sweden, which has one of the world's best forwards in Zlatan Ibrahimovic."

Switzerland, which plays all its group games in Basel, is in Group A with Turkey, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The Portuguese and the Czechs will be strongly favored to advance to the quarterfinals.

Austria, whose home games are in Vienna, is making its Euro debut and is in Group B with three-time champion Germany, Poland and Croatia. There has been fan violence at previous matches between Germany and Poland, and the Union of European Football Associations has warned Croatia it could be kicked out if there were any repeats of racist chanting and misbehavior by its fans.

Poland, which has never beaten Germany, lost 1-0 to the Germans on an overtime goal at Dortmund during last year's World Cup.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that we had a lucky draw," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "Austria will be playing with the entire nation behind it. That shouldn't be underestimated. Croatia eliminated England, and how tough is to play against Poland we found out at the World Cup."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press