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Italy swept aside

Stumbling start for Toni, Ribéry and Sagnol

World Cup winners Italy and runners-up France both made nightmare starts to their Euro 2008 campaigns on Monday evening. Bayern striker Luca Toni and the Squadra azurra crashed 3-0 to an on-fire Netherlands side in their Group C opener, while a French line-up including Franck Ribéry and Willy Sagnol were held to a dull scoreless draw by underdogs Romania.

Marco van Basten’s flying Dutchmen made a nonsense of Italy’s pre-match status as favourites, handing Roberto Donadoni’s men their heaviest-ever European championship defeat to go top of the so-called Group of Death. A 38,777 crowd at the new Wankdorf Stadium in Bern saw Ruud van Nistelrooy controversially open the scoring on 26 minutes, before birthday boy Wesley Sneijder added a cracking second five minutes later. Giovanni van Bronckhorst claimed the third on the break eleven minutes from time.

Lonesome Luca

Toni, who spent most of the match operating as a lone striker, led the charge as the Italians opened breezily, but the lanky hitman steered a free header wide of the target on 12 minutes. The Dutch took charge after that and fully deserved their 2-0 half-time lead, although the Italians fought back in a stirring second period. However, Toni, Fabio Grosso and Andrea Pirlo were all thwarted by veteran keeper Edwin van der Sar.

Two-time European champions France, featuring FCB men Ribéry and Sagnol for the whole game, failed to impress a 30,585 crowd at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich with a limp attacking display against a Romania side whose sole ambition was to avoid conceding.

Ribéry best of a bad bunch

“We controlled the match but we weren’t dangerous enough in front of goal,“ offered France boss Raymond Domenech, who chose to deploy Ribéry on the right wing, where he provided one of few rays of light in an otherwise drab showing. “We have two more games and six points to play for. I’m neither pessimistic nor optimistic,“ the under-fire Domenech continued.

The second round of matches in Group C takes place on Friday, with Italy facing the Romanians and the French up against the Dutch, who can qualify for the quarter-finals with a victory. A potential winner-takes-all clash for a quarter-final berth then takes place on 17 June in a re-run of the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France.