By Tim Dykes in Dusseldorf
Serbia and Montenegro coach Vladimir Petrovic believes his players have a score to settle when they take on Italy in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final tonight.
After facing each other twice during qualifying for the tournament, the teams met again in Group A - and the match ten days ago was a stormy affair. Nine players were booked as the Italians triumphed 2-1 and, after watching Giuseppe Sculli score both Italy goals from what he thought were offside positions, Petrovic insisted: "We played well and didn't deserve to lose."
The Serbo-Montenegrin coach's sense of injustice was still apparent on the eve of the final, for which his team will be without the suspended duo of Andrija Delibašic and Djordje Jokic. "I'm still angry," he said. "When someone steals something from you, when you fight not to lose for 90 minutes and they just take it away from you, of course there is anger. Now all the boys want payback.
This is a revenge match."
Danko Lazovic, the Serbo-Montenegrin forward who will captain the side in the absence of the suspended Delibašic, would have gone into the game as the tournament's leading goalscorer had he not had two goals ruled out for offside himself. "Who says I won't finish the championship as top scorer?" he asked, before outlining why his team are confident of victory.
"The Italians play clever football and patiently wait for mistakes to be made, but the pressure is off us," the Feyenoord striker explained. "We've already achieved our aim, which gives us a huge advantage. We'd like to return home as European champions, though. Hopefully we'll get given back what Italy stole from us in the group match."
If the Azzurrini consider themselves fortunate to have defeated their final opponents in Group A, Claudio Gentile did not let it slip. Instead, the Italy coach reflected on his side's semi-final victory against Portugal. "Our first objective was qualifying for the Olympic Games [which is the reward for the top three sides]," he said. "It was really important to reach the final and now we hope to realise a dream.
"Serbia and Montenegro are good opponents and we will need to battle to get a win. We know each other well as we played together in the qualifying round and in the group stage. But the final is something completely different from any other match - we will have to be very careful.
As well as planning for the final without the suspended Giampiero Pinzi, Gentile has doubts over the fitness of Reggina Calcio's Giandomenico Mesto, who played only 35 minutes of Italy's semi-final. He added: "Mesto is uncertain and we will see in training whether or not he'll be able to play. But my players are not suffering from fatigue.
Victory cancels out the impression of being tired."
A fourth straight win in Bochum would be an emphatic way for the Azzurrini to take their fifth title in seven U21 championships - especially after losing their opening game against Belarus. But standing in their way will be a determined set of Serbo-Montenegrin players, one of whom, Marko Basa, said: "We may have achieved our aim by qualifying for the Olympics, but there is nothing small about playing in a European final."
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