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Australia to play Italy for first time

© Reuters Limited 2001

MELBOURNE, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Australia will play Italy on April 17 next year in the first senior international match between the two countries, Soccer Australia (SA) announced on Friday.

SA said chairman Tony Labbozzetta had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Italian Football Federation to arrange the match, which will be played in Italy.

Ranked No. 72 last December by world governing body FIFA, Australia have now risen to No. 46 after finishing third in the Confederations Cup in Japan and South Korea in June.

Australia, Oceania region champions, are certain to call on Leeds United strikers Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell when they contest the two-leg qualifying playoff against the fifth-ranked South American nation in November and December in a bid to advance to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.

If Australia make it through to the finals the match against Italy, who are ranked fourth in the world, will be the last major friendly for either country before the World Cup, SA said.

"The match will not only form part of our crucial build-up for the FIFA World Cup finals but we're hoping that these discussions lead to the formation of a two-legged challenge, with the return match being played in Australia," Labbozzetta said.

Australia will play Japan in Shizuoka on August 15 and are negotiating to play a European nation in Europe on September 1, SA said.

Australia will play hosts to world champions France in Melbourne on November 11, ahead of the World Cup playoff against the fifth-ranked South American team.

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