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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italian Side Looking to End Romania's Cinderella Run




BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Facing Italy is tough enough.


But for Romania, looking to continue its Cinderella run at Euro 2000, the deck is stacked even higher as they prepare to play the ever-formidable Italians in the quarterfinals on Saturday.


The Romanians will be missing four of the their regular starters for the kickoff at Brussels' King Baudoin Stadium.


Adrian Ilie, Cosmin Contra and Dan Petrescu are suspended, while Gheorghe Popescu is out with an injury. Though Gheorghe Hagi is back from a suspension, his return means coach Emerich Jenei will have to adjust his game plan to make room for the star midfielder.


But perhaps the worst news for Romania fans is that Italy looks to be peaking, psychologically.


Coming into the European Championships with four losses in seven games, the Azzurri have become a team that seems to always find a way to win.


Captain Paolo Maldini gave an explanation for the difference between this Italy and the one from recent months.


"The European Championship is a tournament that counts. The disinterest of the people spread to us," Maldini said. "Now instead we feel and sustain the passion."


Italy swept its first-round games, scoring first all three times, never falling behind and controlling the game throughout.


Coach Dino Zoff is likely to return to his starting lineup of the second game, using star striker Alessandro Del Piero as extra fire power off the bench.


But of greater concern than the lineup choices is Italy's battle against high expectations.


The Azzurri came to Belgium with doubts swirling, and Zoff atop the Italian media's hit list. Many predicted Italy wouldn't make it past the first round.


Three wins later, facing the little-known Romanians, Italy is f as the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport heralded f "Discovering How Difficult it Is to Be the Favorites."


Jenei said his team must both outhustle and outsmart the Azzurri to make it through.


"Italy is a very strong team. But we beat the English and we can also beat the Italians," said Jenei.


"And all the pressure is on them. We've got nothing to lose."