Italy and France in Euro 2008 'group of death'
LUCERNE, Switzerland, Dec 2 (Reuters) - World champions Italy face a tough task if they are to add the European title to their world crown after being grouped with the Netherlands, France and Romania in the finals of Euro 2008 on Sunday.
The draw, made at Lucerne's Congress and Culture Centre, was not particularly kind to either of the co-hosts either with Switzerland facing the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey in their group while Austria meet Croatia, Germany and Poland.
Holders Greece kickoff the defence of their title against Sweden and also face Spain and Russia.
Switzerland open the tournament against the Czechs in Basel on June 7 with the final taking place in Vienna on June 29.
Italy, who beat France on penalties to win the World Cup final last year and also faced France in the qualifying competition, will meet in their last Group C match in Zurich on June 17.
Italy and France have met three times in the Euro finals - with France winning twice, including the 2000 final in Rotterdam which they won 2-1, with one match drawn.
Italy last won the European title in 1968 when they hosted a four-team finals.
The group will see at least one major title hopeful eliminated as it also contains the Netherlands and Romania who also met each other in the qualifying round.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni told reporters in Lucerne: "We didn't have an easy qualification group and we haven't been lucky here either. I had a gut feeling on the way here it would turn out like this."
Gerard Houllier, France's technical director told French TV Channel M6: "We'll have to be very good from the first game and it may all come down to the one game against Italy."
France open their campaign against Romania, and Houllier added: "It is an extremely difficult draw. I think Italy will be eliminated because the Netherlands will be better."
Co-hosts Switzerland open with the Czech Republic and then face Turkey on June 11 in Basel, a game that recalls one of the uglier incidents in the World Cup qualifying campaign of two years ago when Turkish players attacked the Swiss in Istanbul.
That led to severe sanctions for both sides. Switzerland conclude their group phase against Portugal, the host nation in 2004.
Switzerland coach Koebi Kuhn said: "There is no problem between Switzerland and Turkey. Too many people have been fixating on things that should have been long forgotten. I think we will see a fair game with no spectator problems."
Fatih Terim, the Turkish coach added: "I think it's a very competitive group, a really serious group. What happened on the pitch (Istanbul) remains on the pitch. The last person I embraced before coming here was (Swiss striker) Alex Frei. So you can see there is no problem."
Fellow hosts Austria will meet highly-fancied Croatia in their opening match in Vienna on June 8 and then meet Poland in Vienna on June 12 before a match against their old rivals and friends Germany on June 16.
The two countries have met each other 10 times in either the finals of the European championship or World Cup with Germany's eight victories including, as West Germany, their infamous 1-0 victory over Austria in the 1982 World Cup in Spain - a scoreline which saw both advance at the expense of Algeria.
Of more immediate concern might be the fact that Germany will play two matches in Klagenfurt, with thousands of their fans descending on the smallest of the eight venues hosting matches.
Champions Greece start against Sweden in Salzburg on June 10 and then play Russia there four days later and Spain in the same venue on June 18.