The last 16 of the World Cup has thrown up a potential giant killing with three-time champions Italy taking on unfancied Australia here on Monday.

The Italians have been present at every World Cup since 1962 and are among the favourites to win the trophy, despite their recent failures in major tournaments. They are unbeaten in their last 21 international matches, a run which includes friendly wins against Germany and Holland. The Australians are appearing at their first World Cup for 32 years, but their stirring first round performances suggest they could cause an upset.

And their coach, Guus Hiddink, knows what it takes to beat Italy having masterminded South Korea’s 2-1 victory over the Azzurri in the second round of the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

“Its going to be fantastic,” said Australia winger Harry Kewell. “We weren’t even supposed to get this far. A lot of people wrote us off, but we were quietly confident and we dont fear anybody. Against Italy weve got to out there and play our football and not worry about the opposition,” he added.

Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon is full of admiration for Hiddink, but predicted that this time the Dutchman’s motivational skills will fall short. “He’s a great coach, we know that, and the results he has achieved speak for themselves,” Buffon said.

Australia are expecting Italy to be difficult to break down with the Azzurri conceding just one goal in the group stage, an own goal at that. “Italy won’t be giving a lot away and they’re the kind of team that can protect a 1-0 lead well,” said Blackburn Rovers defender Lucas Neill.

Alessandro Nesta has been ruled out for Italy after failing to recover from a groin strain. Marco Materazzi, who scored against the Czech Republic after coming off the bench to replace Nesta, will retain his place at the heart of the defence. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi will also be absent for Italy as he serves the second of a four-match ban for elbowing the USA’s Brian McBride in the face.

Australia, whose FIFA World Cup campaign has captured the imagination of a country where rugby and cricket rule, will be without Brett Emerton, who was sent off in the 2-2 draw against Croatia on Thursday. — AFP

Ukraine vs Switzerland

COLOGNE: Ukraine and superstar striker Andriy Shevchenko break new ground when they face a young and hungry Switzerland in the last 16 of the World Cup here on Monday. The Ukrainians reached the second phase in their first appearance at the World Cup after staging a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Outclassed 4-0 by Spain in their first group match, they looked to be heading for an early exit before Shevchenko, the team’s undoubted leader, recovered from a knee injury and drove his team to a 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia. The 29-year-old who has just joined Chelsea’s star-studded squad in a deal worth £30 million pounds showed all his experience in the 1-0 win over Tunisia which clinched the runner’s-up spot in Group H.

Shevchenko played down his contribution, saying the team unit would be the key to Ukraine reaching the quarter-finals where they would face either Italy or Australia, who also meet on Monday.

“All the teams are strong at this stage. If the team shows heart then with our fans behind us we can hopefully go further,” Shevchenko said. Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin knows the worth of great strikers having been one himself for Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet Union, scoring 42 times in 112 international games.

But while all eyes will be on Shevchenko, Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn has tipped the in-form Alexander Frei to be the goal-scoring surprise of the final stages. Frei, the former bad boy of Swiss football who was sent home in disgrace after spitting at England’s Steven Gerrard at Euro 2004, netted twice in Switzerland’s march into the last 16.

The 26-year-old, who is hoping to wrap up a move from French club Rennes to Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, notched the first goal in the 2-0 victory over Togo and caused an uproar among the South Korean players when he slid the ball home from what appeared to be an offside position in the 2-0 victory as the Swiss won Group G on Friday. — AFP