Inzaghi has another chance to spark Italy

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The Independent Online

Filippo Inzaghi will be handed another chance to establish himself as Giovanni Trapattoni's first choice striker when he partners Christian Vieri in attack for Italy against Azerbaijan today.

The Italians must win against the bottom side in Group Nine to be sure of winning the group ahead of Wales and gaining automatic qualification for the European Championship finals in Portugal next year.

Inzaghi had been left out of the Italy team until an injury to Francesco Totti handed him a chance in the September qualifiers against Wales and then Serbia and Montenegro. The Milan striker took full advantage by scoring a hat-trick in the 4-0 canter against the Welsh and was also on target in the 1-1 draw in Belgrade.

Totti is fit for today's game but injury to Inzaghi's former Juventus team-mate Alessandro Del Piero means that the Inzaghi-Vieri partnership will be renewed against Azerbaijan. "I'm hoping for a 2-0 win with a goal for myself and one for Bobo [Vieri]," Inzaghi said. "Apart from a pre-World Cup friendly we have never scored in the same game."

The pair, close friends who often socialise, lined up on opposite sides in last week's Milan derby in which the prolific Inzaghi scored the opening goal in a 3-1 victory for Milan.

Although it is an injury to a team-mate that has again given Inzaghi a chance, the forward says he does not feel on trial and believes that Trapattoni has an even-handed approach to selection.

"Trapattoni has an embarrassment of riches in attack and anyone could be left out. The important thing, as the last two games showed, is to be ready at the right moment," the striker said.

Germany's coach, Rudi Völler, is expecting Michael Ballack to overcome fitness worries to inspire Germany in their decisive qualifier against Iceland on Saturday. The Bayern Munich midfielder has been resting a sore ankle but Völler is confident that the midfielder will steer his side through to next year's finals in Portugal.

"Ballack has to act not only a football player but also a leader," Völler said yesterday. "His presence on the pitch is extremely important."

Germany lead Group Five, two points ahead of second-placed Iceland, and need a draw in the game in Hamburg to secure automatic qualification.

Ballack has been struggling with his ankle injury for a couple of weeks, to the extent that Bayern's chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, suggested he should not play in today's game. But the elegant 27-year-old, whose playmaking skills are vital to the three-times world and European champions, said he could not imagine missing the game.

Völler said he was convinced Ballack would rise to the occasion despite his fitness problems. "He has to cope with it and he will, simply because he's one of the best midfielders in the world," the German coach said.

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