European Football: Italy lack lustre in dour Baltic win: Estonia raise more doubts over World Cup finalists

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ESTONIA may have few talents to compare with those which Brazil possess in abundance, but Italy's laboured 2-0 defeat of the Baltic state in Saturday's European Championship qualifier did little to dispel the doubts surrounding the footballing merits of Arrigo Sacchi's World Cup finalists.

Christian Panucci and Pierluigi Casiraghi provided the goals for Italy, desperate for victory after a 1-1 draw with Slovenia last month, but did little to warm the hearts of the 500 Azzurri followers among the 4,000 crowd in Tallinn.

Italy are second in Group Four with four points from two matches, trailing Croatia, who scored their second victory yesterday. They beat Lithuania 2-0.

France and Romania, the two leading contenders in Group One for a place in the finals in England in 1996, both secured a point from a goalless draw in St Etienne. An experimental French team dominated the match. Only an impressive performance by the Romanian goalkeeper, Bogdan Stelea, kept France, and notably Marcel Desailly, at bay.

France had disappointed in their first qualifying match, another goalless draw in Slovakia, but this was a vastly improved performance. Aime Jacquet's new-look team included four untried players from the French league leaders, Nantes.

Portugal maintained the pressure on the Republic of Ireland with a convincing 3-1 win over Latvia in their Group Six qualifier in Riga last night. The Portuguese now have a maximum six points from two away matches and they are three points clear of Jack Charlton's side, who play Liechtenstein on Wednesday. Two goals from Joao Pinto - in the 31st and 72nd minutes - and a 73rd minute effort from Luis Figo destroyed the Latvians, whose sole response came from Boris Monjaks.