Italy coach Pietro Ghedin wants his players to fight for the full 90 minutes as they defend a 1-0 lead against the Czech Republic in the home leg of their UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying play-off.
Patrizia Panico's late goal in Prague on Saturday gave Italy the upper hand for the return match in Gubbio, as they aim to eliminate the Czech Republic in a second successive EURO play-off – four years after winning 2-1 at home and 3-0 away. But despite the Czechs having never competed in a women's finals, and the fact the Azzurre have always reached at least the last eight, Ghedin is taking nothing for granted.
"The result in Prague will allow us to be more relaxed in the return leg," Italy's coach said. "Despite being a very young side, the Czechs proved to be very strong, especially from a physical point of view. The first leg was a very balanced and tight game, the victory could have gone either way. However, the goal scored by Patrizia Panico in the later stages was a good reward for our commitment and patient approach. Now we have to pay attention and avoid losing our focus. We have to be very determined for the last 90 minutes separating us from the finals."
Panico rallies fans
Ghedin must make a decision on winger Melania Gabbiadini, who stayed on the bench in Prague after overcoming a thigh injury. Captain Panico, however, should be in the starting lineup despite nursing a black eye. "Saturday's victory was very important, it was a tough battle against a side who were very good on the counterattack," the striker said. "Now we cannot afford to relax because the Czechs looked very dangerous opponents. We want to reach the finals and we will give our all. I hope many fans will come to support us in Gubbio."
While Italy conceded only three home goals in their qualifying group, taking nine points from four games, the Czech Republic's two competitive away matches in 2008 have resulted in a 0-0 draw in England and a 4-1 loss in Spain. Czech coach Dušan Žovinec, still missing captain Eva Šmeralová from the defence because of a knee injury, remains hopeful, however.
"We will play in front of very partisan crowd, but nothing is lost yet," Žovinec said. "We must score a goal – that would immediately revive our chances. We know we are capable of doing it." But he also knows his charges have to avoid shipping late goals. As well as letting in Panico on Saturday, they also leaked two in Spain and four against England as time ran out in crucial qualifiers, losing 4-1 and 5-1 in games that had been tight. "Stamina is our weak point," the coach added. "We must focus on it in future, not only in the national team but in all sides."
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