LONDON (Reuters) – World Cup winners Italy and beleaguered England return to the Euro 2008 campaign trail on Wednesday with both their coaches feeling the heat of qualifying.
Roberto Donadoni’s Italy take on a Scotland side who remain the surprise leaders of Group B after beating Georgia 2-1 on Saturday, while Steve McClaren’s England need to make up lost ground in Group E against lowly Andorra.
Other sides looking to make amends are Group G leaders Netherlands, 2004 European champions Greece and Javier Clemente’s Serbia, the victims of Kazakhstan’s first competitive win since joining UEFA five years ago.
Donadoni has vented his anger at Italian press criticism of him and his side, telling reporters on Monday: “I don’t know why people are being put on trial when nothing has happened.
“Scotland won on Saturday, but it seems as though Italy lost. I would just like to remind people, in case they hadn’t realised, that Italy didn’t play that day.”
Italy are fourth in their group with seven points from four games, two points behind Ukraine. Scotland and France, on 12 points apiece, have each played a game more.
McClaren is under fire after a lacklustre 0-0 draw with Israel on Saturday that cast his side three points adrift of Russia and five behind group leaders Croatia.
England’s worst run for 26 years, with only one goal and no wins to show for their last five international matches, has triggered a hostile reaction from media and many fans alike.
A repeat of their 5-0 win over Andorra last September would clearly lift morale, up to a point.
However, the relative weakness of the opponents means it would do little to ease worries over England’s qualifying prospects later in the year.
The Dutch were held to a disappointing goalless draw by Romania at the weekend but are still top of Group G by three points going into their game in Slovenia.
The team coached by Marco van Basten, who said he would not be rushed into making changes, have 11 points on the board. Bulgaria and Romania both have eight and a game in hand.
Greece’s 4-1 home defeat by Group C leaders and old rivals Turkey on Saturday will have been a particularly painful one, but a game against a modest, albeit improving Malta side should ease that pain.
Second in the group and still on course for the finals, Greece midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos has already sounded the rallying cry, telling reporters: “This is the time that we must be strong.”
Serbia could well live to regret that historic defeat by Kazakhstan, with Euro 2004 hosts Portugal being their next opponents in Group A.
Buoyed by a 4-0 drubbing of Belgium at the weekend and inspired by on-form winger Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored twice, the Portuguese are likely to be a handful in Belgrade.