OVERSEAS FOOTBALL : Italy's critics goad Sacchi

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The Independent Online
With some trepidation, Italy head for Kiev and a crucial European Championship Group Four qualifier against Ukraine on Wednesday. The 4- 1 win over Estonia in Salerno on Saturday did little to silence the critics of the national coach, Arrigo Sacchi, and his team.

Second place in the section will almost certainly guarantee participation in next year's finals in England - but the Italians cannot take even that for granted. The formidable Croatian side, who beat Ukraine 4-0 in Zagreb on Saturday, head the group with maximum points from four games. Italy are five points adrift in second place - and Lithuania are one point behind with a game in hand.

"Italy wake up after the jeers," read the headline in La Repubblica yesterday. The Italians struggled and were booed by the crowd until Parma's Gianfranco Zola put them ahead just before half-time with his first international goal. The Milan midfielder, Demetrio Albertini, Zola, and the debutant striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, from Juventus, added further strikes for Italy in the second half before Estonia scored their first goal of the qualifying campaign through their substitute, Martin Reim.

"Clearly some journalists are used to seeing such great league matches that the national team pales by comparison," Sacchi, who promised to make changes in Kiev, said. "I don't think I would have read the same things if an Italian club had won 4-1 in a European match."

Croatia, who beat the Italians 2-1 in Palermo last November, could have doubled their tally against Ukraine. Davor Suker, the Seville striker, scored twice, with Milan's Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki, from the penalty spot, also on target for the former Yugoslav republic, who face Lithuania in Vilnius on Wednesday. "Croatia are the European team who have made the biggest leap in the Fifa rankings and they have a lot of very good players," Sacchi said.

n The midfielder Paul Le Guen, of Paris St-Germain, will take over from the suspended Eric Cantona as the captain of France for their European Championship qualifier against Israel in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.