LUCERNE, Switzerland – World champions Italy will renew their rivalry with old foes France in the opening group games of next summer’s Euro 2008 Championships.
They were drawn in a formidable Group C along with the Netherlands and Romania.
The Italians beat the French 5-3 in a penalty shootout in the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin after a 1-1 draw, vividly remembered for the sending off of France’s Zinedine Zidane for a head butt on Marco Materazzi in his final game before retirement.
The teams also clashed twice in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2008.
They will clash again in Zurich on June 17 in the final game in the group
France manager Raymond Domenech’s face dropped as the draw unfolded while Italian manager Roberto Donadoni sported a resigned smile.
“We didn’t have an easy qualification and now we have a very difficult group,” Donadoni said. “We were unfortunate in the draw, but I had a gut feeling this morning that it would turn out like this.”
Domenech said: “I think there are coaches who are happier today than the four here.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. “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.”
The tournament will open with joint hosts Switzerland facing the Czech Republic in a Group A encounter in Basle on June 7.
The other sides in Group A will be Turkey and Portugal.The Swiss will be hoping that their meeting with the Turks on June 11 will lack the animosity which followed their World Cup playoff success in Istanbul two years ago.
They went through to Germany after a 4-4 draw over two legs, but the 4-2 defeat in Turkey produced fighting and one of the Swiss subs finished in hospital.
Holders Greece, the shock winners in Portugal in 2004, will join Sweden, Spain and Russia in Group D.
In Group B Three-time European champions Germany will face neighbors and joint hosts Austria, Poland and Croatia, the side that ended England’s qualifying hopes at Wembley.
Germany’s general manager Oliver Bierhoff said that he was happy and identified Croatia as the danger team in the group.
“They are three good teams and they have won the right to play in the finals,” he told German television. “It will be tough for us to play the hosts Austria but we are happy because we have avoided the group of death.
“Our opening game against Poland will be tough. We played against them in the 2006 World Cup and we must not underestimate them. But it is Croatia who are the biggest threat to us.”
The June 7-29 competition is being staged in eight cities – Basle, Zurich, Berne and Geneva, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, and Vienna’s Ernst-Happel stadium where the final will be played.
A: Switzerland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Turkey
B: Austria, Croatia, Germany, Poland
C: Netherlands, Italy, Romania, France
D: Greece, Sweden, Spain, Russia
Euro 2008 Schedule
(Times are local which is GMT + two)
Preliminary Group Stage
Saturday June 7
Basle (1800) Switzerland v Czech Republic
Geneva (2045) Portugal v Turkey
Sunday June 8
Vienna (1800) Austria v Croatia
Klagenfurt (2045) Germany v Poland
Monday June 9
Zurich (1800) Romania v France
Berne (2045) Netherlands v Italy
Tuesday June 10
Innsbruck (1800) Spain v Russia
Salzburg (2045) Greece v Sweden
Wednesday June 11
Geneva (1800) Czech Republic v Portugal
Basle (2045) Switzerland v Turkey
Thursday June 12
Klagenfurt (1800) Croatia v Germany
Vienna (2045) Austria v Poland
Friday June 13
Zurich (18h00) Italy v Romania
Berne (20h45) Netherlands v France
Saturday June 14
Innsbruck (1800) Sweden v Spain
Salzburg (2045): Greece v Russia
Sunday June 15
Basle (2045) Switzerland v Portugal
Geneva (2045) Turkey v Czech Republic
Monday June 16
Klagenfurt (2045) Poland v Croatia
Vienna (2045): Austria v Germany
Tuesday June 17
Berne (2045) Netherlands v Romania
Zurich (2045): France v Italy
Wednesday June 18
Salzburg (2045) Greece v Spain
Innsbruck (2045) Russia v Sweden