Panucci fit for duty in Italy's defence

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The Independent Football

Christian Panucci said yesterday that he felt fit and ready to play his fourth successive game at the European Championship.

The 35-year-old Italy defender, who was regularly rested during a tough season with Roma, is set to play centre-back for the world champions, alongside Giorgio Chiellini, in tomorrow's quarter-final against Spain in Vienna. Panucci shrugged off a slight knee problem during the group stage and said a healthy lifestyle was keeping him going.

"I recover really well. I must say physically I don't feel tired two days after a match. I am happy," he said. "I thank my mother for making me this way. I've always had a professional and rigid lifestyle."

The Italy coach, Roberto Donadoni, probably could not rest Panucci even if he wanted to. The centre-back Andrea Barzagli is out of the tournament after undergoing knee surgery on Friday in the same clinic where a fellow defender, Fabio Cannavaro, had an ankle operation before the finals got under way.

Marco Materazzi, who partnered Barzagli in the 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the opening game, appears to be out of form and Cannavaro's replacement, Alessandro Gamberini, has only two caps.

Panucci, who played at right-back against the Dutch, said his age meant he was unlikely to play at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, he stopped short of saying he would retire from international football after the tournament.

"This is the last big opportunity of my career. It would not be sensible to say I was aiming for the 2010 World Cup. But you never say never," he said.

Panucci enjoyed success playing for Real Madrid between 1997 and 1999 and said Spain were now a force to be reckoned with, having flattered to deceive for many years.

"I understand Spain don't want to play Italy because the history of the Euros is not good for Spain," he said. "Italy have been more prepared for the big competitions but Spain have improved a lot in recent years. We know Spain are a strong side with enthusiasm and they will give us problems."

The Germany coach, Joachim Löw, offered his players a brief rest after their quarter-final win over Portugal on Thursday, but he promised yesterday that there would be no let-up in intensity when they play their semi-final.

Germany ran themselves into the ground in Thursday's 3-2 win in Basle, a match that was played only three days after they came through the group phase with a tense 1-0 victory over co-hosts Austria.

Löw, who watched from the stands in Basle because of a one-match touchline ban, said it was time for his players to catch their breath before preparations begin in earnest for their semi-final match on Wednesday.

"We played against Portugal with great passion, dynamism and style, while proving that we're con-tenders for the title," Löw said. "We showed just how strong we can be. Now we have to give a bit of a rest to players who've been in action a lot over the season and now at Euro 2008. We won't start intensive preparations for the semi-final until Sunday.

"We're going to have to show all the same strengths as we did against Portugal. That's the only way we'll reach our goal, which is to be there for the final in Vienna."