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Familiar foes set to duel again

Both France and Italy have every reason to be confident as they prepare to renew their high-profile rivalry in the concluding Group C fixture in Zurich.

The last meeting between France and Italy was in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualification
The last meeting between France and Italy was in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualification ©Getty Images

Opponents in the finals of UEFA EURO 2000™ and the 2006 FIFA World Cup and again in qualifying for these finals, France and Italy renew their high-profile rivalry in their concluding Group C fixture in Zurich with a quarter-final place at stake.

• Both teams have still to get out of first gear in the tournament with just a single point from the first two games but both have the chance to continue their involvement at UEFA EURO 2008™ with victory at the Letzigrund Stadion.

• That is the only way Les Bleus can progress, although even then the two sides know a Romania victory against the Netherlands in Berne would render their own efforts in Zurich irrelevant.

• If France and Italy draw, meanwhile, they will both go out should Romania avoid defeat against the group winners. There are other possible scenarios. If Romania lose and the others play out a score draw, Italy would go through in a three-way head-to-head tie on two points as they would have scored more goals in their games involving France and Romania.

• If Romania fall by one or two goals, or by a three-goal margin other than 3-0, and the game in Zurich finishes 0-0, Romania would advance as their head-to-head record with Italy would be dead level but they would have a superior overall goal difference, or in the case of the three-goal defeats, goals scored.

• If Romania lose by four goals or more and the other game ends 0-0, Italy would proceed with a better overall goal difference than Romania. If Romania lose 3-0 and the other match finishes 0-0, Italy and Romania would have to be split on qualifying coefficients, in which case Italy would prevail 2.364-2.250.

• Both these teams have suffered their heaviest UEFA European Championship final tournament defeats over the past week, and both at the hands of the Dutch. Italy opened their finals campaign with a 3-0 reverse in Berne courtesy of goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy (26 minutes), Wesley Sneijder (31) and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (79), while France began with a goalless draw against Romania in Zurich.

• Four days later the roles were reversed as Christian Panucci (56 minutes) cancelled out Adrian Mutu's opener for Romania a minute earlier to earn Italy a 1-1 draw in Zurich, Gianluigi Buffon saving Mutu's late penalty to keep the Azzurri in the competition. Meanwhile in Berne it was the turn of Les Bleus to be dismantled by the Dutch thanks to goals from Dirk Kuyt (9), Robin van Persie (59), Arjen Robben (72) and Sneijder (90+2) with Thierry Henry's 71st-minute effort France's sole riposte.

• In terms of head-to-head, both Italy and France can take heart from recent history. Italy beat France on penalties in the World Cup final but Les Bleus can point to a golden-goal win against their neighbours to win UEFA EURO 2000™. Raymond Domenech's team also took four points off Italy on the road to Austria-Switzerland, despite eventually finishing three points below them in qualifying Group B.

• The Azzurri pipped France to the world crown by winning 5-3 on penalties in Berlin on 9 July 2006. Zinédine Zidane opened the scoring with a seventh-minute spot-kick before Marco Materazzi equalised after 19 minutes on a night most memorable for Zidane's extra-time headbutt on Materazzi that earned the Frenchman a red card.

• Italy's successful spot-kick takers in the ensuing shoot-out were Andrea Pirlo, Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Grosso. Sylvain Wiltord, Eric Abidal and Willy Sagnol all scored for France but David Trezeguet struck the crossbar with his kick.

• The teams that night were:
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Marco Materazzi, Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi (Alessandro Del Piero), Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Simone Perrotta (Vincenzo Iaquinta), Francesco Totti (Daniele De Rossi), Luca Toni.
France: Fabien Barthez, Willy Sagnol, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Franck Ribéry (David Trezeguet), Patrick Vieira (Alou Diarra), Claude Makelele, Zinédine Zidane, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry (Sylvain Wiltord).

• The teams met again just two months later in a UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying match at the Stade de France and this time France prevailed. They made a lightning start with Sidney Govou scoring after two minutes and Thierry Henry doubling the lead on 18. Although Alberto Gilardino replied for Italy two minutes later, Govou restored France's two-goal advantage ten minutes after half-time.

• The most recent meeting between France and Italy was a goalless draw in Milan on 8 September 2007.

• The teams that night were:
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Massimo Oddo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Barzagli, Gianluca Zambrotta, Daniele De Rossi, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Mauro Camoranesi (Simone Perrotta), Alessandro Del Piero (Antonio Di Natale), Filippo Inzaghi (Cristiano Lucarelli).
France: Mickaël Landreau, Lassana Diarra, Lilian Thuram, Julien Escudé, Eric Abidal, Franck Ribéry (Jérémy Toulalan), Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka.

• It goes without saying that the countries' most significant encounter in the UEFA European Championship came on 2 July 2000 in Rotterdam where a 103rd-minute golden goal from substitute Trezeguet earned France their second continental crown. Italy had earlier taken a 55th-minute lead through Marco Delvecchio only for Wiltord, another France substitute, to equalise in the dying seconds of normal time.

• Lilian Thuram and Henry are France's survivors from that final, while substitutes Massimo Ambrosini and Del Piero remain with Italy.

• The 2006 World Cup final is the only time that France have lost to Italy in eight matches and it is 30 years since the Azzurri's last win in open play against their rivals, a 2-1 success at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

• Besides their UEFA EURO 2000™ triumph, France beat Italy in the second round of the World Cup in 1986 and the quarter-finals in 1998.

• The overall head-to-head record for this fixture is 18 Italy wins, nine France wins and eight draws, with victories on penalties counted as wins.

• France, under Domenech, suffered a UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying play-off defeat by Italy in November 1999. After a 1-1 first-leg draw, Thierry Henry opened the scoring in the return for France but the Azzurrini fought back to win 2-1, Andrea Pirlo deciding the tie for the hosts in extra time.

• Italy coach Roberto Donadoni was in the AC Milan team defeated by Olympique de Marseille in the 1993 UEFA Champions League final.

• Italy full-back Grosso plays his club football for Olympique Lyonnais where he is a team-mate of French internationals Karim Benzema, Jean-Alain Boumsong, François Clerc, Grégory Coupet, Govou and Jérémy Toulalan.

• France midfielder Patrick Vieira formerly played with Grosso at FC Internazionale Milano. Vieira now counts Azzurri defender Materazzi among his Inter team-mates.

• France goalkeeper Sébastien Frey plays with Italy defender Alessandro Gamberini at ACF Fiorentina and also appeared alongside Luca Toni at the Florence club. Azzurri striker Toni is now a team-mate of French internationals Sagnol and Franck Ribéry at FC Bayern München.

• France's Abidal, Henry and Thuram were colleagues of Italy full-back Gianluca Zambrotta at FC Barcelona before his switch to AC Milan just before these finals.

• Italy have a positive recent memory of the Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich after defeating fellow UEFA EURO 2008™ finalists Portugal 3-1 there on 6 February this year.

• France, appearing in their fifth successive UEFA European Championship, were European champions on home soil in 1984 and lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy for a second time in 2000.

• Italy's best performance in the UEFA European Championship came when they beat Yugoslavia in the 1968 final. They were runners-up in 2000 and semi-finalists in 1988 with a team featuring Donadoni himself.

• This is the 13th edition of the UEFA European Championship and the eighth edition that features a final tournament with a group phase.