The Czech Republic host Italy in the first leg of their UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ play-off on Saturday seeking to avenge a defeat by the Azzurre at the same stage four years ago.
Italy completed a 5-1 aggregate triumph in 2003 to deny the Czech Republic a maiden place at the finals, while maintaining their own record of appearing in every final tournament. If Dušan Žovinec's players are to rewrite history, they must do so without three key players: captain Eva Šmeralová injured her knee in last month's concluding group match against England, which was lost 5-1, while Lucie Heroldová and Lucie Kladrubská are suspended.
"They are big losses for us, but we can replace them," said Žovinec, who called up nine players from the club he coaches, Czech champions AC Sparta Praha. On a positive note, sisters Lucie and Irena Martinková are available for the tie in Prague and the return in Gubbio four days later having serving bans of their own.
While Italy, who finished second in their qualifying-round group, are favourites, Žovinec is hoping that tag will work in favour of his third-placed team. "They see themselves as being in the finals and this could be to our advantage," he said. "We mustn't repeat our failure from the second half against England when we conceded four goals in eight minutes. I hope we will fly to Italy with our chances of progress still alive."
Italy coach Pietro Ghedin, who took over from Carolina Morace after the 2005 finals, is impressed by the opposition. "The Czech Republic had a very good group campaign, proving they are well-organised both in defence and in attack," he said. "They shipped more goals than us but they also scored more. However, the play-offs are a completely different story. I think the chance of success is equal for both sides. Italy had the better of the play-off in 2005, so I'm sure they are eager for revenge, but we also want to reach the finals."
Ghedin has a full squad to pick from after winger Melania Gabbiadini overcame a thigh injury. "Without a shadow of doubt this is great news for us, but I will decide just before the game about her after considering her condition," the trainer said. "I prefer to take a cautious approach with her because the girls have worked well and we have several different options." Gabbiadini's colleague for club ASD CF Bardolino Verona and country, captain Patrizio Panico, added: "We have two difficult games but reaching the finals is an objective we cannot fail to achieve."
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