The 13th match of the 13th European Championship, taking place on Friday 13th, will prove unlucky for Italy and in particular their coach Roberto Donadoni unless there is considerable improvement on the humiliating 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands on Monday.
Nobody has perished yet in the much-hyped group of death, however, and the Azzurri are confident of a revitalising effort against Romania in Zurich this evening. To break down an opposing defence that proved impenetrable against France, however, they will need to offer greater support to Bayern Munich's Luca Toni, who was a lone and lonely striker in the opening game.
Were there more options among the forwards, Toni's place might be in jeopardy and he could still be one of those who pays the price for a performance that shocked the nation. Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano and the 33-year-old Alessandro del Piero, of Juventus, livened the side up a little after their appearances as substitutes and Donadoni was criticised for not introducing them earlier.
The former Milan midfielder will face much more of the same if things go wrong this evening, when defeat would mean elimination with a game still to go. Appointed as successor to Marcello Lippi, who had just won the World Cup, Donadoni has an unremarkable record as a coach and his position could be under threat by tomorrow, despite having signed a new contract after winning the qualifying group from France and Scotland.
"Giorgio Chiellini and Alessandro del Piero and possibly a few others are going to feature in the lineup," Donadoni said last night. He hinted that Marco Materazzi, formerly of Everton, would be dropped and that there could be up to five changes in all.
Romania, happy to be regarded as outsiders in Group C, made no apology for a shamelessly negative performance against France, in which they failed to register a shot on target but limited France to only one themselves in the dullest match of the tournament to date. More of the same would suit them quite well if they could then go into the final game against a Netherlands team that had already qualified for the quarter-final.
"We expect a different approach to the French," said the talented captain Cristian Chivu, well versed in the Italian mentality as he plays in Serie A for Internazionale. "Hopefully they will leave some gaps at the back for us to exploit."
Adrian Mutu, the striker still under threat of having to pay Chelsea £9.6m for breaking his contract with them, said: "We will defend, defend, defend."
More than 500,000 Romanians are believed to live in Italy following the country's entry into the European Union last year. Some say they are frightened of watching the match in public because of racial tensions.
Probable teams: Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon (Juventus); Zambrotta (Milan), Barzagli (Palermo), Chiellini (Juventus), Grosso (Lyon); Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini (all Milan); Del Piero (Juventus); Toni (Bayern Munich), Cassano (Sampdoria).
Romania (4-3-2-1): Lobont (Dinamo); Contra (Getafe), Goian (Steaua), Tamas (Auxerre), Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk); Cocis (Lokomotiv Moscow), Radoi (Steaua), Chivu (Internazionale); Nicolita (Steaua), Mutu (Fiorentina); D Niculae (Auxerre).
Referee: T Hemming Ovrego (Nor).
Misses next match if booked: Italy Gattuso, Toru, Zambrotta. Romania Contra, D Niculae, Goian.Reuse content