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Group of Death

Early Euro exit looms for Ribéry and Toni

In a Euro 2008 full of surprises, the so-called Group of Death has produced one of the biggest shocks of them all with the on-song Netherlands convincingly defeating both Italy and France to claim top spot in Group C and a place in the quarter-finals with a game in hand. That in turn means the world champions with Bayern star Luca Toni and the World Cup runners-up with Franck Ribéry and Willy Sagnol cannot both qualify for the next round – and the Munich men could even be heading home after just three matches.

A 30,000 crowd at the Letzigrund in Zurich saw the Italians held 1-1 by a stubborn Romania side after Adrian Mutu (55) and Christian Panucci (56) traded second-half goals. Mutu, who plays his club football in Italy, squandered a golden opportunity to win his side the game in the 81st minute when his poorly-struck penalty was saved by Gianluigi Buffon, although the award was contentious to say the least.

Toni wrongly penalised

Toni was the victim of another poor piece of refereeing when the 31-year-old, a constant menace in the centre-forward position but rarely offered a decent service by his midfielders, netted with a header in first-half stoppage time but saw the effort wrongly chalked off by referee Övrebö for offside. “If my goal had been given, the match would have taken a different course," the Bundesliga’s leading scorer lamented.

The French with Ribéry and Sagnol suffered an even more miserable second outing at the tournament in a 4-1 deefat to the Dutch. A 30,777 capacity crowd at the Stade de Suisse in Berne saw Dirk Kuyt (10), subs Robin van Persie (59) and Arjen Robben (72), and Wesley Sneijder (90+2) net for the pacy and skilful men in orange. Thierry Henry had briefly given the outclassed French a glimmer of hope on 71 minutes.

Ribéry in good shape

Ribéry was an exception to the rule in a poor French side and posed a constant threat with a series of bursts and darts into the box, but the Munich man was thwarted in his most promising scenes by veteran keeper Edwin van der Sar. Sagnol’s best moment came in the build-up to Henry’s goal with a powerful run and cross for the ex-Arsenal man to glance in at the far post.

The stunning victories over the World Cup finalists mean the Dutch are guaranteed to finish top of the section with maximum points from two games. The Romanians lie second on two points, and could seal the remaining quarter-final berth under their own steam with a win in their final match against the Netherlands.

Bayern stars head-to-head

The Bayern trio, whose countries meet on Tuesday, now need outside help in the shape of a Dutch win or draw at the least. Both Italy and France have just a single point from two games with one goal scored and four conceded. The loser of the re-run of the 2006 World Cup final is definitely out of the tournament, whereas the winner could still make the last eight, depending on the result in the parallel fixture.

“We’re not giving up. We have to give it our best shot one last time and play even better. We can do it," Toni declared.