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Italians find win a pizza cake

On the night when Ronnie Baker matched Peter Scantlebury's record of 131 international caps, England set another benchmark - this time for mediocrity.

Ill-prepared and under-strength, Laszlo Nemeth's men were humiliated 97-39 in Coventry by a short-handed Italian side in their latest Euro 2003 qualifier .

The Italians travelled without Barcelona forward Gregor Fucka and London-born Carlton Myers but after a tight first quarter in which the visitors led 21-15, there was only one team in the game as the hosts - minus the unavailable Steve Hansell - slithered into the shadows. 

It took only three minutes of the second period for Italy to lead by 14 and with an 18-0 run at their back, by half-time, their dominating defence had sparked a 51-23 lead as England, paced by Andy Betts, could register only three different entrants on the scoresheet.

Game over. 

Betts would lead his team with 16 but Nemeth could only rue England Basketball's perilous financial situation which had left him with only one full training session in six months to ready his squad.

Italy, paced by Robert Chiacig's 17 points, continued their three point blitz and cruised home as the Skydome crowd muttered in embarassment.

"I didn't expect that," said Nemeth. "You always think maybe you can do it, maybe it's going to be a contest, you always hope. But we were outplayed in every area of the game. We had one practice together with all 10 players and that is just not enough."

No other Englishman hit double figures with Tony Dorsey the next best marksman with eight points.

England must now seek redemption on Saturday against the Czech Republic with a last place finish in the semi-final round now a real possibility. 

The Czechs lost 103-89 at home to Russia on Wednesday while in the same group, Slovenia took a 106-99 win in Portugal.

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