The stakes are high in Tuesday's matches pitching France against Italy and Romania against the Netherlands. The Bleus are clutching at straws and need a win against Italy to continue, provided Romania doesn't snatch the Group C runner up spot.
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On the page or on the pitch any encounter between France and Italy generates sauna-like temperatures, even more so with the kind of stakes riding on this latest instalment of their rivalry.
Given the old foes' history there's a delicious drama attached to Tuesday's clash in Zurich where one will have the honour of delivering the coup de grace that knocks the other out of Euro 2008.
That is of course providing Romania don't snatch the Group C runner up spot by beating already qualified Holland in the other game being played simultaneously in nearby Berne.
That France and Italy were drawn in the same group at all should have come as no surprise as they've proved as inseparable lately as gin and tonic.
Eight years ago France inflicted the first blow when David Trezeguet's golden goal deprived Italy of the Euro 2000 title.
The Italians though gained revenge six years later when denying France a second world title with that 5-3 penalty win at the 2006 World Cup in Berlin.
That encounter at the Olympic stadium though will forever be remembered for Zinedine Zidane's headbutt that felled Italy defender Marco Materazzi and earned the French star a red card.
This moment of madness unleashed a wave of accusation and counter accusation as to who was the saint and who the sinner.
France's Barcelona defender Lilian Thuram stormed: "A player like Materazzi, he's an illness, it shouldn't exist."
France coach Raymond Domenech suggested mischievously that Materazzi and not Andrea Pirlo had deserved the man of the match award.
"Well I for one wouldn't mind being Materazzi. In the World Cup final, you score a goal, you have your rivals best player sent off and you score in the penalty shoot out. You can say what you want about (Andrea) Pirlo; Materazzi, is the man of the match."
When Materazzi hit the deck again after another headbutt in a Serie A game against Sampdoria Domenech remarked that the player "has a habit of falling over easily, he must have a weakness somewhere".
Unbelievably France and Italy's paths crossed that autumn in qualifying for these championships and the tension that was already in the air from the Materazzi row reached fever pitch after accusations of match-fixing made by Domenech.
In an interview with French daily Le Parisien the French coach alluded to "a referee being bought" during a tie between France and Italy's under-21 sides in 1999.
Domenech, who was coach of the under 21 team at the time, threw salt into a very fresh wound adding: "It is not me who invented the refereeing sagas in Italy...There are arrangements made in Italian football."
This triggered an indignant backlash over in Italy.
Il Corriere della Sera, Italy's most read newspaper, led with a full-scale assault on Domenech with a front page titled 'High tension'.
The paper added: "Italy-France has started one month early. It is the France coach, with a bad habit of provocation, who has ignited the fire.
"Domenech is scornfully arrogant and touchy, someone who does anything to get what he wants. And in this case it is to raise the tension to the benefit of his team."
Domenech's accusation earned him a one match ban for unsporting behaviour from UEFA.
He was forced to sit out last September's Euro 2008 qualifier with Italy - fittingly also in the stands unable to play due to injury was none other than Materazzi.
Fast forward to Lucerne in December and the draw for Euro 2008 and there was almost a feeling of quiet resignation when the two countries were pooled in the same group.
"See you soon," Domenech muttered through gritted teeth when he bumped into his Italian counterpart Roberto Donadoni after the draw.
"I'm not especially enchanted. We can't be thrilled to be drawn in this group. It's complicated, difficult, but now the draw's made we've just got to live with it," shrugged Les Bleus' manager.
Donadoni smiled: "It hasn't been easy to qualify for this Euro and now this....
"I had a feeling it might happen, I don't know if that's positive or negative for what lies ahead."
And now their latest meeting is almost upon them - surely neither manager could have ever conceived a more dramatic script than both teams' very survival at Euro 2008.
Date created : 2008-06-17