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ON'T take your eyes off the Italian maestro Paolo Maldini, surely the best all-round full back in the world. He is powerful in the tackle, a tremendous overlapper and scorer of many a spectacular goal. And, when necessary, he's a resilient centre back, as he proved in the 1990 WorldCup Finals.

With AC Milan, Maldini has won European Cup and Championship medals, the latest of them this season. For Italy, he played in the World Cup Final of 1994 in Pasadena.

He will certainly be one of Italy's key players, but will they win? If

only Gianluca Vialli were there, Italy would have a great chance. But the strikerwon'tbepresent. Despite having a magnificent last season with Juventus, Vialli and Sacchi, Italy's peppery little manager, just couldn't kiss and make up.

So Sacchi will pin his hopes on his other Juventus attackers, notably Fabrizio "White Feather"Ravanelli and Alessandro Del Piero.

Clever little Gianfranco Zola will be a threat up front, but Beppe Signori, who fell out with Sacchi during the last World Cup, has been dropped from the squad as, not surprisingly, has Roberto Baggio. But Maldini is a guarantee of quality - and it might makethe difference.



E'S not quite in the Last Chance Saloon, but Alan Shearer knows time could soon be called on his England career.

Dominant on the domestic front but goal-shy on a global scale, the Blackburn star's strike rivals read like a Who's Who? of deadly finishers.

Magestic Ferdinand, precocious Fowler, cool Cole...they are all eyeing the No 9 shirt that was once automatically hung on Shearer's dressing room peg.

The pressure is on - and Al knows it.

He knows Euro '96 is the ideal stage to blow away the growing band of pundits who claim he can't bridge the gap between club and country. He knows a starring role will have the Italian billionaires banging onBlackburn's door again. That's why Shearer synchronised the timing of his groin operation to suit England - not Ewood Park.

England must have a favourite's chance - the advantage of playing at Wembley cannot be over-stated, and Venables has a team that is defensively sound and promising in attack.

But the midfield can claim the championship for England. There is graft, guile and guts in the form of Platt, Ince and Gazza, and galloping genius in the coltish shapes of McManaman and Anderton. With Tel's festive tree formation, expectChristmas to come early this year.



RENCH football hasn't had it so good since the glory days of Platini and Giresse.

They were the star turns when France claimed the European Championship in 1984 and there is real belief that the class of '96 can do it again.

French club sides have been flying in Europe so their young stars have had vital big-game experience. And, in attacking midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, France have a lad who knows how to pull the strings.

He orchestrated Paris St Germain's Cup Winners' Cup final triumph over Rapid Vienna and is as exciting as Gazza was before hisinjuries.

France have enjoyed a record-breaking unbeaten run of 20 games under coach Aime Jacquet and it's been achieved with very little help from a gentleman named Cantona.

Eric may be top dog over here but he's just a bit player in France - and Djorkaeff has been largely responsible for his absence.

His free-flowing style suits Jacquet down to the ground and Bordeaux's Zinedine Zidane combines alongside to form a potent driving force.

Throw in top names from the ItalianLeague like AC Milan defender Marcel Desailly, Torino's Jocelyn Angloma and Juventus star Didier Deschamps and it isn't hard to see why France have a bon chance!



HE silverscreen image of the archetypal hit man isn't hard to conjure...he's ruthless, cold, ghosts in to do the business and gets out fast.

In football terms, the description is tailormade for Holland's Patrick Kluivert, a youngster ready to createhavoc inEuro'96.

Kluivert is only 19 - yet already he's grabbed the attention of soccer's talent- hunters in Italy and Spain. Amsterdam is the diamond capital of the world - and none shines brighter than the polished Kluivert.

Playing for Holland's top club side Ajax helps, and his winner in the 1995 Champions Cup final against AC Milan raised his profile overnight. Kluivert has had his problems off the pitch, but he's got gold dust sprinkled in his boots - as group rivals England and Scotland are about to discover.

And if the brilliant youngster needs any help to win Euro '96, eight of his Ajax team-mates will be on hand for Holland.

From tough centre-backs Danny Blind and Frank de Boer to wing back Michael Reiziger and midfield destroyer Edgar Davids, the Dutch have so much class it's frightening. They'll even be formidable opposition for giants like Italy and Germany.

The future's bright. The future's Orange - and the Euro title is going to Holland - or I'm a Dutchman!



ICKNAMED Dennis The Dud after a poor start to his first season in England, Arsenal star Dennis Bergkamp finished on a high with 11 Premiership goals, helping Arsenal to qualify for Europe.

I think he will be THE player of the tournament and England had better watch out when they meet Holland - Bergkamp has a knack of upsetting them.

He scored twice against England - at Wembley and in Rotterdam - stopping Graham Taylor's team from going to America for the 1994 World Cup.

He's used to facing the England team players so he knows their style, strengths and weaknesses.

Despite Bergkamp's dazzling abilities I'm not picking Holland to win the title. It has to be Italy.

Their flamboyance, style and elegance on the ball makes them the team to watch.

They're in a difficult group, coming up against Germany, Russia and the Czechs, but they have the class to win - and the determination after the crushing disappointment of losing to Brazil in the World Cup Final two years ago.

Expect the Italians to set Euro '96 alight - but don't expect to get served in an Italian restaurant when they're playing!



ERMANY are not well known for producing extrovert players. They have always been too disciplined to come up with a George Best or an Eric Cantona.

Jurgen Klinsmann began to break the mould with his famous celebration "dive" and now they have a real rebel in Mario Basler.

He's known in Germany as "Super-Mario" and his 20 goals for Werder Bremen made him the joint top scorer in the Bundesliga last season.

It's quite an achievement for a midfield player, but most of Basler's goals come from dead-ball situations.

If you are turned on by swerving, dipping free kicks that scream into the top corner, then look out for Mario.

So far he hasn't been as prolific for the national team as he is at club level, but he's due to come good.

And with Klinsmann deadly as ever up front, there is every prospect of German coach Berti Vogts ending his trophy drought.

It's six years since he took over as coach and the closest he's come to glory was runner-up in the 1992 European Championships.

The Germans still have faith in him and would love to win in England where they remain convinced they were robbed in the 1966 World Cup final.

I think they'll do it.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 1996
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