Football: Del Piero is passed fit for France

THE Juventus striker Alessandro del Piero passed a medical on his injured right thigh yesterday and is on course to play in the World Cup, an Italian team doctor said.

Del Piero picked up the injury in last week's European Cup final defeat to Real Madrid and feared he might miss the tournament. Italy's coach, Cesare Maldini, has named him only provisionally in his squad, pending fitness tests.

"There's a notable improvement in his right adductor muscle," the team doctor, Andrea Ferretti, said. "I can confirm he's ready to start light training. So far, he's improving as we had hoped."

Italy play their final World Cup warm-up match against Sweden in Stockholm on Tuesday. The Parma striker Enrico Chiesa will travel to Sweden as cover for Del Piero and will take his place in the squad if the Juventus player is unfit. "The muscle feels much better than it did last week," Del Piero said at Italy's training camp at Coverciano near Florence. "Things look much brighter."

The Croatian defender Stjepan Tomas will not play in the World Cup due to a torn knee ligament. The news came as another blow to the coach, Miroslav Blazevic, who has lost two of his strikers, Alen Boksic and Igor Cvitanovic, this week.

Last night Blazevic called up three new players to his training squad to offset the withdrawals. Alen Peternac, the Real Valladolid striker, and two uncapped players: the right-back Daniel Saric of Croatia Zagreb and another defender, Boris Zivkovic of Bayer Leverkusen, are now competing for a place in France.

Manchester United's Peter Schmeichel let in three goals in Malmo last night as World Cup-bound Denmark lost 3-0 in a friendly to Sweden, who did not qualify for France.

Germany's veteran defender Thomas Helmer is in danger of missing the World Cup with a torn thigh muscle. He collided with Jurgen Klinsmann three days ago in the Germans' training camp in Helsinki, forcing both players to miss Wednesday's goalless friendly against Finland. Klinsmann has an injury to his shin bone and may miss tomorrow's friendly against Colombia in Frankfurt.