France and Italy begin Euro road to redemption

LONDON - France and Italy, still raw from their World Cup embarrassments, start afresh on Friday when with new coaches they begin qualifying for the 2012 European championship against Belarus and Estonia respectively.

Russia, Belgium, Greece, Turkey and Israel are also under new management as they seek to make the finals in Poland and Ukraine in the first of back-to-back qualifiers with Friday's games followed by a full fixture list on Tuesday -- the dates brought forward a day to please the leading leagues who wanted more rest for their players before returning to club duty.

Of all the countries in action on Friday France are most in need of a new start in Paris.

The chaos of the threatened strike and subsequent suspension of players has somewhat masked what was a poverty-stricken on-pitch display in South Africa where after a draw with Uruguay they were beaten by Mexico and the host nation.

French fans, embarrassed and angry after what they witnessed in June, will hope that the arrival of Laurent Blanc in place of Raymond Domenech will help.

Blanc has selected nine of the World Cup squad along with 10 of the players from last month's 2-1 friendly defeat by Norway - a game for which he ignored all the World Cup men.

Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra are still suspended for their part in the South African revolution while Samir Nasri, Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac and Lassana Diarra are injured.

Uncapped Kevin Gameiro, Cedric Carrasso, Mamadou Sakho and Benoit Tremoulinas are included in the squad who follow up Friday's opener with a tough trip to Bosnia on Tuesday.

"To have a young team is a good thing but it's not enough to be competitive at the highest level," said Blanc. "We tried to come up with a mixture of talented youngsters and more experienced players who can guide them."

Italy endured a similarly painful summer, their world champion status looking somewhat hollow after they finished bottom of their group, and they too embark under a new managerial era with Cesare Prandelli in place of Marcello Lippi.


Prandelli's first game in charge was a 1-0 friendly defeat by Ivory Coast and he sounded nervous this week when looking ahead to his first competitive test in Tallinn.

"It won't be a walk in the park against Estonia, they are a proven side. We have to be careful," he said of a team who needed two goals in stoppage time to beat Faroe Islands 2-1 in the opening game of Euro qualifying last month.

Spain, who lifted the Henri Delaunay Cup in Vienna two years ago, are seeking to become the first team to retain the trophy and should start their campaign with a win in Liechtenstein while Netherlands, beaten in a bruising World Cup final by Spain seven weeks ago, also have an easy-looking opener in San Marino.

Germany, runners-up two years ago and buoyed by their World Cup exploits, have a tougher-looking start away to Belgium. The Belgians are playing under George Leekens for the second time after he replaced Dick Advocaat, whose Russia side have a soft start in Andorra.

Fabio Capello is another coach whose reputation took a hit in South Africa and the Italian begins the rebuilding job at Wembley as England take on Bulgaria before a trip to Switzerland.

Capello's options have been limited by a spate of injuries but he will be buoyed by the early season form of Arsenal forward Theo Walcott, who was the most surprising of his World Cup omissions.

Greece, surprise European champions in 2004 but who lost all three tournament games four years later, really are embarking on a new era after Fernando Santos replaced Otto Rehhagel after nine years in charge.

His team, who went out in the group stages of the World Cup, start at home to Georgia.

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