Italians face improving foes

Italy welcome the Czech Republic for their play-off first leg on Saturday - when Norway expect to qualify.

By Paul Saffer

Contrasting records
While Italy have twice reached the final of this competition, their visitors for the first leg in Crotone, the Czech Republic, did not even gain promotion to the élite qualifying pool until four years ago. However, while the Czechs secured second place in Group 4 behind Germany in June with two games to spare, Carolina Morace's side were only sure of entering the hat on 25 September after beating Serbia and Montenegro in their last group game having already lost touch with leaders Sweden.

First meeting
The former Czechoslovakia did reach the quarter-finals in 1989, losing over two legs to eventual winners the Federal Republic of Germany. Although these nations have never met, Italy held the upper hand against Czechoslovakia, winning six and drawing four of their eleven encounters including a 2-1 victory in their debut international in 1968.

Norway in control
That tie will be settled after the second leg on 27 November in Caslav, but on Saturday the seventh place in the eight-team finals will be filled when former world, Olympic and European champions Norway welcome Iceland for the return leg of their encounter - with the Norwegians having won the first match 7-2 in Reykjavik on Wednesday. The game in Oslo marks Norway coach Åge Steen's last fixture in charge after four years at the helm.