Italians' important job

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The Independent Online
England may be planning to ambush them on the final straight, but first Italy have to find a way past Georgia on the last bend of their World Cup race.

Italy must win against the skilful Georgians in Tbilisi tomorrow, or face the prospect of England, and not the 1994 World Cup finalists, qualifying automatically for France 98.

Cesare Maldini is even toying with the idea of a three-man attack, based on Roberto Baggio playing behind two strikers, in his quest to ensure a clear-cut victory in the Georgian capital.

Italy's need for goals is based on the arithmetic of their World Cup campaign, which has become complicated after a 0-0 draw in Poland. They are still top of Group Two in the European zone, but they are only one point ahead of England.

With England likely to get three points from Moldova tomorrow, a failure to win in Georgia would install Glenn Hoddle's men as the group leaders before the decider in Rome on 11 October.

Despite the need for goals, Italy's 65-year-old coach is unlikely to try anything rash on the tactical front. Maldini will almost certainly start with his tried and tested 4-4-2 line-up, coupling the creative skills of Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola with Lazio's powerful centre forward, Pierluigi Casiraghi.

Zola's team-mate Roberto Di Matteo and Parma's Dino Baggio are likely to harness the central midfield, with the Juventus pair Antonio Conte and Angelo Di Livio out on the flanks. Fabio Cannavaro and Ciro Ferrara should return to central defence, with the captain Paolo Maldini on the left, Christian Panucci on the right and Angelo Peruzzi between the posts.

Italy won 7-0 in a practice game against an amateur side at the weekend, and Maldini said: "The game gave me a few indications, but nothing to make me change my mind completely. Roberto Baggio showed some nice touches, and using him behind two strikers remains an alternative."

Bulgaria will become the third European nation to qualify for the finals if they beat Russia in Sofia tomorrow.

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