Preview: Czech Republic v Italy

Group E comes to a head on Thursday with no team assured of a place in the last 16, and all four teams still in contention to make the second round.

    In the red corner: The Czechs ahead of their bout with Italy

    Two of those teams are Czech Republic and Italy who were expected to qualify out of a hotly contested group, but now find themselves battling one another to stave off possible early elimination from the tournament.

    Since Czechoslovakia became Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the Czechs have played Italy three times and have never lost, scoring two wins and one draw, with the 2nd FIFA ranked team going into the Finals touted as one of the tournament favourites.

    Coach Karol Bruckner however chose to take the humble underdog status, which is so often done ahead of clashes between two footballing powers.

    "Italy are an experienced side with a great defence - they are the favourites," said Bruckner attempting to add further pressure to the Italians' preparations.

    Depleted strike force

    The Czechs have been hit with a selection crisis, especially up front with towering target man Jan Koller still nursing a torn thigh from his side’s first match against the USA, and reserve forward Vratislav Lokvenc suspended due to picking up two yellow cards in previous matches.

    Add to that Aston Villa striker Milan Baros who has not yet made an appearance due to a foot injury, and that leaves just unused Galatasaray forward Marek Heinze to lead the line.

    The recovering Baros and Koller may take part, but coach Bruckner will be looking for goals from the midfield through future Arsenal player Tomas Rosicky and Juventus star Pavel Nedved to compensate for the lack of strikers.

    A player who knows all about the skill of Nedved is Juventus team mate and Italian captian Fabio Cannavaro.

    "He is an annoying player to play against," Cannavaro said of his club mate.

    "He has a great spirit and an inner strength that is an example to others. He's a real professional, a player to fear."

    AC Milan and Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo also gave his thoughts on regular Serie A rival Nedved.

    "We all know him because he plays in Italy. He's a great player who can decide a match - we'll have to watch out," Pirlo said.

    Still got it: Marcello Lippi juggles
    a ball at Italian training

    Italian coach Marcello Lippi has a selection problem of his own with midfielder Daniele De Rossi suspended from the match for elbowing USA forward Brian McBride in the face during their last match.

    Midfield team mate of Pirlo’s at AC Milan, Gennaro Gattuso could get his first start of the tournament, or Lippi may move defender Gianluca Zambrotta to the left of midfield to mark the dangerous Nedved.

    Italy only require a draw out of the match to ensure they go through to the next round, however the Czechs will want a win as they are level on points with Ghana, with the USA just two points behind.

    Given that scenario, it is likely both teams will need to go for the win in what will be an intriguing and tense climax to Group E on Thursday.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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