Bald facts hit Sacchi in the face

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The Independent Online
Arrigo Sacchi's words in the programme for Group C are becoming more appropriate by the day. "There are two possibilities," the Italian coach said about Euro 96. "Either I shall be kissed all over my bald pate or tomatoes will be aimed at it."

As the Italians prepare for their final group match, against Germany at Old Trafford to- night, the likelihood is that any red marks left on Sacchi's head will not be lipstick. His team are in serious jeopardy of failing to reach the quarter-finals, and he could be out of a job within a few weeks.

Since the 2-1 defeat by the Czech Republic last Friday, Sacchi's compatriots have been queuing to stick the verbal knife in. Salvatore Riina, the self- styled Mafia boss of bosses, is standing trial in Florence at the moment but still took time to tell a lawyer, "Sacchi uses suicide tactics and suicide choices". Gianluca Vialli, meanwhile, has said he wants to score as many goals as possible for Chelsea just to embarrass Sacchi for leaving him out of Euro 96.

"We do not deserve to go home," Sacchi pleaded yesterday. "We have played a high standard of football. But we can't just hope to beat Germany; we must be convinced that we can do it." To reinforce that conviction, he has recalled the strikers Gianfranco Zola and Pier- luigi Casiraghi while Roberto di Matteo comes into midfield for Dino Baggio and Amedeo Carboni takes over from the suspended Luigi Apolloni at left-back.

Sacchi knows his history and his reference to tomatoes recalls the last time Italy played in a major tournament in England in 1966 - and were pelted by supporters after an ignominious exit. Another dip into the record books is more agreeable. In 1982 the Italians began the World Cup miserably with three poor draws but ended up the winners. On that occasion the Italians needed a 1-1 draw against Cameroon to get through their qualifying group, a wholly different proposition to trying to defeat the Germans.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine opponents you would dread more under the circumstances. Particularly as Germany themselves conceivably fail to qualify although it would need a "pigs might fly" sequence of results. For aerial bacon, the Italians would have to win 4-0, and the last time Germany suffered a loss by four goals was in the finals of the 1954 World Cup.

A more realistic route to the last eight for the Italians is to get at least a draw tonight and pray that the Czech Republic fail to match them against Russia at Anfield. It is a hope that was hardly enhanced yesterday by the news that Russia's top striker, Sergei Kiryakov, has been dismissed from the squad "for undermining the morale of the team", according to Oleg Romantsev, the Russian coach.

Kiryakov, who plays for Germany's Karlsruhe, has scored 14 goals for Russia in 33 appearances but only came on as substitute in the 2-1 loss to Italy and did not play in the 3-0 drubbing by Germany. Apart from Kirya- kov's banishment, Yevgeni Bus- hmanov is out of the tournament with an ankle injury while Russia will also be without the suspended defenders Yuri Kovtun and Viktor Onopko.

ITALY (v Germany, Old Trafford, today, 7.30): Peruzzi (Juventus); Mussi (Parma), Costacurta (Milan), Maldini (Milan), Carboni (Roma); Fuser (Lazio), Di Matteo (Lazio), Albertini (Milan), Donadoni (New York/NJ MetroStars); Zola (Parma), Casiraghi (Lazio).

GERMANY (probable): Kopke (Eintracht Frankfurt), Sammer (Borussia Dortmund), Reuter (Borussia Dortmund), Freund (Borussia Dortmund), Helmer (Bayern Munich), Eilts (Wer- der Bremen), Ziege (Bayern Munich), Hassler (Karlsruhe), Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Klin- smann (Bayern Munich), Bierhoff (Udinese).

CZECH REPUBLIC (v Russia, Anfield, today, 7.30): Kouba (Sparta Prague); Latal (Schalke 04), Suchoparek (Slavia Prague), Nedved (Sparta Prague), Kubik (Petra Drnovice), Nemec (Schalke 04), Poborsky (Slavia Prague), Kuka (Kaiserslautern), Bejbl (Slavia Prague), Berger (Borussia Dortmund), Hornak (Sparta Prague).

RUSSIA: Kharin (Chelsea), Tetradze (Alania Vladikavkaz), Nikiforov (Spartak Moscow), Gorlukovich (Spartak Moscow), Yanovski (Alania Vladikavkaz) or Khokhlov (CSKA Moscow), Tsymbalar (Spartak Moscow), Kar- pin (Real Sociedad), Kanchelskis (Everton), Mostovoi (Strasbourg), Kolyvanov (Foggia), Kiryakov (Karlsruhe).