Italy climbs out of trouble; England fears slump

Italy seems to be climbing out if its post-World Cup slump. England is in danger of falling into one, and that means trouble for coach Steve McClaren.

After inheriting a World Cup winning team from Marcello Lippi, Italy coach Roberto Donadoni started with two losses and a tie to fall five points behind group rivals Scotland and France in Euro 2008 qualifying games.

A 2-0 victory over Ukraine on Saturday took most of the pressure off Donadoni, who hopes to follow that up with three more points at struggling Georgia on Wednesday. A loss could land Italy in trouble again.

"Not winning was weighing on us, so the Ukraine win was very important," Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro said. "But if we don't win in Georgia, everything we've rebuilt will be useless."

The same applies to McClaren's England team, which could easily wind up sliding from first to fourth in Group E.

After winning its first two group games against Andorra and Macedonia, England was held 0-0 at home by the Macedonians on Saturday. A loss to Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday would put the Croats top of the group. Worse could follow for England when its main four rivals play next month and McClaren's team is idle, reports AP.

England could easily wind up behind Croatia, Israel and Macedonia in the standings, with the Russians only a point behind. Although two teams qualify from each group, England is not in competitive action again until March, and there would a long, gloomy winter of speculation over whether McClaren was the right man for the job.

A victory in Zagreb, however, would put England back on track, especially if Wayne Rooney ends his 13-game scoreless spell in competitive games for the national team with a matchwinning goal.