Dutch death for Italy, France
World champions Italy were pitted against old foes France in the draw for the Euro 2008 finals made here on Sunday.
The pair, who clashed in last year's World Cup final and again in qualifying for next year's European championships, were joined by the Netherlands and Romania in Group C, inevitably handed the tag of the dreaded group of death.
France manager Raymond Domenech's face dropped when Italy's name was drawn while Italian manager Roberto Donadon1 sported a resigned smile.
The Italians, who failed to make it past the group stages at Euro 2004, open their campaign against the Dutch in Bern on June 9, with the French waiting for them in Zurich four days later.
France and Italy have proved virtually inseparable recently, the pair's paths crossing in Berlin in June 2006 with the World Cup final which the Azzurri won on penalties after Zinedane Zidane's sending off.
Then again in Euro 2008 qualifying where the pair edged through their group at the main expense of Scotland.
The top seeds in the group however will be the Dutch and manager Marco Van Basten said it could not have been a tougher draw for his side.
"That really is a hard one," he said. "We will go back up against The Romanians who posed us so many problems in the qualifiers and before that we will have to open against Italy and then have France. At least we know what we are up against."
Sunday's draw was preceded by a ceremony featuring the Vienna Boys Choir and Jose Carrera but for Romania, having the three European superpowers as company was hardly music to their ears.
Quarterfinalists in 2000 they will not thank UEFA's balls for pitting them against three teams that have won four European titles between them.
There was a Christmas mood in this Swiss lakeside city outside and the festive spirit spilled into the conference hall where the draw was staged, at least as far as Germany were concerned.
Joachim Loew's side avoided all the big guns and the Mannschaft will be hardly quaking in their boots at the prospect of facing debutants Poland and Austria, the co-hosts who are rated below Haiti in FIFA's world rankings.
Croatia though, the fourth members of Group B, will demand respect after their impressive showing in qualifying as their group leaders, knocking out England in the process.
Germany's general manager Oliver Bierhoff said that he was happy with the draw.
"They are three good teams and they have won the right to play in the finals," he told German television. "It will be tough for us to play the hosts Austria but we are happy because we have avoided the group of death.
"Our opening game against Poland will be tough. We played against them in the 2006 World Cup and we must not underestimate them. But it is Croatia who are the biggest threat to us."
The opening match in Basel sees Switzerland face former winners the Czech Republic.
Holders Greece will come up against Spain, Russia and Sweden with their manager, Otto Rehhagel, saying: "All these teams are first class; they've all proved their strength in qualifying."
Luis Aragones, Spain's veteran coach, was playing his cards close to his chest, simply saying: "There's nothing for it but to compete."
The June 7-29 competition is co-hosted in Austria and Switzerland with matches being staged in eight cities - Basle, Zurich, Berne and Geneva, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, and Vienna's Ernst-Happel stadium where the final will be played.
The official motto for Euro 2008 is 'Expect Emotions' - and after Sunday's draw that now looks guaranteed.