It is barely 15 months since Italy lifted the World Cup but there is an increasing air of change about the Azzurri. Whether this represents renewal, or the end of an era, will become clearer in a month's time when Roberto Donadoni's remodelled team go to Glasgow for what looks like being the decisive closing fixture of Group B. First, though, Italy must defeat Georgia in Genoa tonight.
It is not a foregone conclusion. Italy won 3-1 in Tbilisi a year ago but the scores were level until the Georgians were reduced to 10 men on the hour. More recently, Georgia only lost 1-0 to France in June.
Donadoni, who has been much-criticised since succeeding Marcello Lippi after the World Cup, has dropped Alessandro del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi. With Francesco Totti and Alessandro Nesta retired from international football, Fabio Cannavaro suspended, and both Gianluca Zambrotta and Marco Materazzi injured, the team will have a fresh, almost inexperienced look.
Luca Toni, who has made an impressive start to his Bayern Munich career, Udinese's Antonio Di Natale, and Vincenzo Iaquinta, of Juventus, are expected to make up a three-pronged attack.
France, the other big beast in Scotland's group, play in the Faroe Islands. Victory is expected, and imperative. "We have a gun pointed at our head. That's good, it's going to motivate us," said coach Raymond Domenech. "We lose a game, we're out. We will have to fight and play much faster."
The joint-leaders of Group G, Romania and Netherlands, meet in Bucharest with third-placed Bulgaria hoping for a decisive result one way or the other. Romania, despite possessing many skillful players, have not qualified for a tournament since knocking England out of Euro 2000.
"It will be the match of our whole generation – a generation who have not yet breathed the air of a big tournament," said defender Christian Chivu.
Adrian Mutu added: "If we managed to beat them it would mean we will have changed our old mentality." Mutu, who was sacked by Chelsea in 2004 after testing positive for cocaine, has since rebuilt his career in Italian football. He said: "I was very proud when I signed for Chelsea, but I lost my confidence little by little and the end of my English period was very difficult. Now I know that Mutu as a person is not important, and that what Mutu does on the pitch and in day-to-day life is what really counts."
The Dutch are without Wesley Sneijder, Mario Melchiot and Robin van Persie through suspension but Edwin van der Sar hopes to play after injury.
The intriguing Group A may clarify today with Roy Hodgson's Finland, and Luis Felipe Scolari's Portugal, facing tricky matches in Belgium and Azerbaijan respectively, while leaders Poland host Kazakhstan. In Group F, Northern Ireland will hope Spain fail to win in Denmark.Reuse content