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No more excuses for ‘Real Italia’

Milan: Italy know there can be no more excuses against Finland on Saturday if they are to keep their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign afloat.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s side are third in group nine, trailing Serbia and Montenegro and unbeaten Wales whose victory over the Italians in Cardiff left the group wide open.

Trapattoni has been under pressure since Italy’s second round exit from the 2002 World Cup but has been without several key players, including attacking force Francesco Totti, for all three qualifiers so far.

On Saturday he will have Totti back and the Roma forward will operate just behind Christian Vieri.

Apart from Alessandro Del Piero, who is just returning from injury, and Filippo Inzaghi, who has a slight knock, Trapattoni has all his first choice players together.

Italian media have dubbed the formation ‘Real Italia’ as they believe it is inspired by Real Madrid’s formation, with Cristiano Zanetti and Simone Perrotta playing the holding midfield roles that Flavio Conceicao and Claude Makele fill for the European champions.

The approach worked in last month’s 1-0 defeat of Portugal with Fabrizio Miccoli and Bernardo Corradi filling in for Vieri and Totti to great effect.

Meanwhile, France striker Thierry Henry says his country must beat Malta to erase the memory of last month’s 0-2 home defeat by the Czech Republic.

“We must win the game on Saturday to redeem ourselves,” said striker Thierry Henry.

France will be without captain Marcel Desailly and defensive midfielder Emmanuel Petit while influential Robert Pires pulled out because of an ankle injury.

The captain’s armband will be worn by Zinedine Zidane. Meanwhile, Spain can effectively book their place in the finals with an away victory against Ukraine in their group six qualifier while Germany will miss Michael Ballack against Lithuania.

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