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Italy impresses; France injury concerns
by Paul Kennedy, June 2nd, 2008 6:45AM



[EURO '08 COUNTDOWN] Antonio Di Natale is certainly making it hard for Italian star Alessandro Del Piero to regain his spot in the Azzurri's starting lineup. The Udinese forward scored twice to pace an impressive Italian effort in a 3-1 win over Belgium on Friday in Florence.

Coach Roberto Donadoni picked Di Natale and Argentine-born Mauro Camoranesi to provide support for Luca Toni in Italy's 4-3-3 formation, and both players scored.

Di Natale scored on a volley and added a second goal in the first half, while Camoranesi scored on a pass from Del Piero, a second-half substitute, early in the second stanza.

"Di Natale has always done well," said Donadoni. "He is incredibly at ease."

In the second half, Donadoni went with a 4-3-1-2 formation with Del Piero and Toni playing in front of Antonio Cassano. Del Piero had said he preferred to play alongside Toni rather than on the left wing.

The surprises in what could be Donadoni's first-choice lineup for its Euro '08 opener against the Netherlands were Andrea Barzagli in place of Marco Materazzi alongside captain Fabio Cannavaro in the middle of the defense, and Roma's Alberto Aquilani in midfield ahead of Massimo Ambrosini.

Euro '08 TV Schedule

VIEIRA INJURED. France captain Patrick Vieira missed the Bleus' 0-0 tie against Paraguay on Saturday and will be sidelined for their final Euro '08 tuneup against Colombia on Tuesday.

Vieira injured his left thigh in training and is now doubtful for France's opener against Romania next Monday.

Despite the 0-0 tie, France coach Raymond Domenech was happy with the play of Lyon's Jeremy Toulalan in Vieira's place alongside 35-year-old Claude Makelele.

Injuries are a concern for Domenech. Both starting center backs -- William Gallas and Lilian Thuram -- missed the Paraguay game, as did Willy Sagnol, the incumbent right back whose fitness is a concern.

Thuram and Sagnol have been training apart from the rest of the squad with fitness coach Robert Duverne.

BABEL REPLACED. Young Liverpool star Ryan Babel will probably have to settle for a spot on the Netherlands' Olympic team after he suffered an ankle injury (torn ligaments) in training on Saturday and was replaced by Khalid Boulahrouz on the Oranje's Euro '08 roster.

Babel is eligible as a U-23 player for the highly regarded Dutch team that has qualified for Euro '08.

FREI BREAKS RECORD. Captain Alex Frei broke the Swiss national team scoring record on Friday when he scored twice in its 3-0 win over Liechtenstein.

Frei, 28, equaled Kubilay Turkyilmaz's tally of 34 goals with the first goal and broke it with his second goal just minutes later.

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