Italy-Portugal: World champions vs. world's best player?

6th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

The world champions will take on arguably the best player on the planet when Italy and Portugal meet in a friendly on Wednesday.

6 February 2008

GENEVA - The world champions will take on arguably the best player on the planet when Italy and Portugal meet in a friendly on Wednesday.

The two teams, which are among the favorites for this year's European Championship, will play at a Euro 2008 venue in Zurich's Letzigrund stadium. And with a leading 19 goals in 21 Premier League games for Manchester United this season, Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo is the player Italy has to stop.

"It's a good test for us to develop and learn," Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "The way (Italy) plays is to let you have a lot of possession, but then suddenly take you by surprise and change the outcome of a game in an instant. We have to learn how to play against that kind of team."

Portugal was runner-up at Euro 2004 and a semifinalist at the 2006 World Cup, but it hasn't beaten Italy in more than three decades. Italy lost to France in the Euro 2000 final, but got its revenge in Germany two years ago, beating Les Bleus on penalty kicks in the final to claim a fourth World Cup title.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni is likely to base his attack around Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni, who is joint top scorer in the Bundesliga this season.

Genoa striker Marco Borriello is also in Italy's 21-man squad and could make his debut with Donadoni leaving out Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta of Juventus, Alberto Gilardino of Milan and Sampdoria's in-form Antonio Cassano.

"There are still four months to go before the Euros and nobody should feel excluded," Donadoni said. "If I was certain about which men I have to bring I would go on vacation now. Instead, I'm going to continue following games and gathering information."

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Gennaro Gattuso are out injured, with Livorno's Marco Amelia likely to start in goal. Marco Materazzi was hoping to make his international return after surgery in August, but is doubtful with a bad back.

"Portugal is a great team with a lot of personality," Donadoni said. "This is a really tough test and entering with only one day of preparation won't be easy. But I know my guys and I'm confident in them."

There were no surprises in the Portugal team with Scolari aiming to use the match to experiment with tactics. He plans to start with a three-man back line built around Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho, and may pair Hugo Almeida and the Congo-born Ariza Makukula in attack.

FC Barcelona midfielder Deco and Ronaldo will tuck in just behind the strikers. The 22-year-old Ronaldo has scored 27 goals in all competitions this season, including nine in his last six matches, to improve on the form that saw him finish third in voting for the 2007 FIFA player of the year.

Scolari is without Real Madrid defender Pepe, Atletico Madrid winger Simao Sabrosa and Benfica striker Nuno Gomes because of injuries. But Chelsea defender Paulo Ferreira and Benfica midfielder Armando Petit have been recalled.

Euro 2008, co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, takes place from June 7-29.

Italy will be back in Zurich for Group C matches against Romania and France. It also plays the Netherlands in Swiss capital Bern in what looks like the most difficult of the competition's four groups.

Portugal returns for Group A matches against Turkey and Czech Republic in Geneva, and against the Swiss in Basel.

[Copyright ap 2008]

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