Stars out as coaches gamble

Paris, May 23:

Being second only to the World Cup on the international footballing calendar Euro 2008 should

bring together the cream of the continental crop - which is doubtless why under-achieving England must watch at home.

Yet the coaches of several top sides have approached the event in Austria and Switzerland as if swaggering to the gamblers’ table at the casino, given that they have elected to leave out some of their ostensibly most gifted performers.

So will the gambles of France coach Raymond Domenech, Italian counterpart Roberto Donadoni and Spain’s Luis Aragones pay off? All three have raised eyebrows with their decisions to drop, respectively, David Trezeguet, Filippo Inzaghi and Raul, authors of 103 international goals between them - and Donadoni may yet elect to trim Serie A top scorer Alessandro Del Piero, who has netted 27 times for the Azzurri.

At 33, Del Piero is keeping his fingers crossed he does not become a fourth major absentee as he seeks to star in what is likely to be his last international tournament. Most observers believe Donadoni’s axe will in fact fall on Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo when he chops the final surplus place by the May 28 deadline.

Domenech, Donadoni and Aragones clearly know their own mind — yet a comparison of the illustrious missing with a roll-call of their replacements forments sentiments in their homelands ranging from curiosity to incomprehension.

The case of Spanish all-time top scorer Raul appears extraordinary to Madrid media which largely worship his club Real. Rather perversely, within days of learning Aragones had extended the exile of the 30-year-old striker to two years Raul was voted Spanish player of the year after his 18 league goals helped propel Real to another league championship.

That meant nothing to Aragones, preferring uncapped Real Zaragoza striker Sergio Garcia, who scored just four times in a season which saw his team relegated. Aragones’ explanation? “I focus on the players, not the position of the team in the league. There are many other players who, when you look at the number of minutes played, have scored more than Raul and they haven’t made the squad either.” With Fernando Torres and David Villa as his spearheads, perhaps this Spanish sage feels he can afford to take the risk.

In spinning their squad wheels to dump Trezeguet and Inzaghi, Domenech and Donadoni likewise insist the World Cup finalists have other aces up their sleeves, such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema for the French, and Bayern Munich hitman Luca Toni for the Italians.

Yet the Inzaghi decision still bemuses, given Donadoni’s decision to prefer Marco Borriello, just two caps, the petulant Antonio Cassano (10 caps), and Fabio Quagliarella, who has made only eight appearances. “For ‘Pippo’ (Inzaghi), age didn’t come into it. It was a technical choice,” Donadoni said.

Meanwhile, Domenech clearly has an issue with Trezeguet, 1998 world champion and golden goal hero at Italian expense in the final of Euro 2000, given that he could not accommodate a man so consistently prolific in Serie A who knows France’s group rivals so well. Instead, the coach has defended his choice of untried forward Bafetimbi Gomis.

“It’s an organisational issue, to do with the game plan. David has said that himself. You have to make a choice,” he said, adding that Trezeguet’s exploits at Juve “are no longer my problem.” But Juve coach Claudio Ranieri professed to being “amazed” by the non-selection of his “predator.” “I can’t understand it — he’s a tremendous goalscorer,” said Ranieri.