Italy look to Totti's class as Danes plan to capitalise on complacency

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The Independent Football

Francesco Totti was the proverbial king with no clothes in the World Cup of two years ago. This evening in the Afonso Henriques Stadium, a venue named after the first Portuguese monarch, the arch exponent of deep-lying attack in Serie A must set about proving that he is worthy of being crowned one of the truly great No 10s.

Francesco Totti was the proverbial king with no clothes in the World Cup of two years ago. This evening in the Afonso Henriques Stadium, a venue named after the first Portuguese monarch, the arch exponent of deep-lying attack in Serie A must set about proving that he is worthy of being crowned one of the truly great No 10s.

Totti's troubles in the Far East epitomised an ill-starred tournament for Italy. Sent off as they went out to South Korea, he proceeded to trash the dressing-room. But with Roma last season he was back to constructive destruction, so to speak, raising hopes that Euro 2004 may bring the Azzurri their first title since they claimed the global prize in 1982.

Fabio Cannavaro, their captain, certainly believes they can go one better than in 2000, when they led France in the final until the dying seconds and eventually lost to a "golden goal" in extra time. In his eve-of-tournament rallying cry, the Internazionale defender insisted Italy were good enough to cruise through Group C and go all the way.

His words rankled with their Danish opponents in this medieval city. Martin Laursen, the former Milan, Verona and Udinese centre-back who recently joined Aston Villa, said: "I don't understand why he's talking so confidently, but it's typical of Italy. They feel they're better than everyone. But we can beat them. This is a huge opportunity to make a laughing stock of them."

That Denmark should have won a major competition (Euro 92), more recently, underlines the extent to which Italy have under-achieved. And it is from Totti, above all, that the veteran coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, will seek the inspiration for a coronation.

When the Argentina-born midfielder Mauro Camoranesi was pressed as to why things should be any different this summer, he instantly nominated Totti. "He's the one who can turn a match," he said, his response casting doubt on reports of in-fighting between Juventus and Roma players. "He is like the light for us."

Italy will be without Paolo Maldini for the first time in 14 years, but the side should still be constructed in a 4-2-3-1 formation, albeit with a greater emphasis on attack than in Japan/Korea. Familiar names like Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Christian Vieri form the spine. Vieri will feed, in theory, off passes from Totti.

Morten Olsen, the Danish coach, will set his team out in near-identical fashion, as they strive for an upset which, if not quite in the class of Italy's humiliations by North Korea in 1966 or Wales in 2002, would eclipse Greece's defeat of Portugal.

If any player is to make Cannavaro eat his words, it could, ironically, be one from across the San Siro divide, Jon Dahl Tomasson. Despite a fringe role at Milan, the one-time Newcastle misfit scored four goals in the World Cup and five during the Euro 2004 qualifying - all from a withdrawn position, similar to Totti's.

Tomasson is well-placed to assess what looks on the surface a collision of Latin volatility and Scandinavian solidity. "Italians play for results," he said, pointing to a pragmatic streak behind the stereotype. "It's not always about good football but about getting the required outcome. I think we stand a good chance against them because of the way we play. It's also the first game, so people are a little cautious."

Laursen's own time in Italy also led him to identify Totti as the principal threat to Denmark's record of only two defeats in 22 competitive games under Olsen. "We mustn't give him, or Alessandro Del Piero, time on the ball," he said. Yet staying "in Italy's faces", as Laursen termed their task, may be easier said than done in temperatures likely to top 80F.

Denmark will be without Jesper Gronkjaer, the Chelsea winger, who is mourning the death of his mother, and the Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen, who is suspended.

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