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FOOTBALL

Rampant Italy rout World Cup hosts

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) -- Italy fired a warning to their World Cup rivals when they crushed a lackluster Germany 4-1 at Florence's Franchi stadium in a friendly on Wednesday.

First-half goals by Alberto Gilardino, Luca Toni and Daniele De Rossi effectively killed off the contest by the interval.

Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero added Italy's fourth soon after the restart to give the Azzurri their most convincing win since Marcello Lippi took over as coach in August 2004.

Defender Robert Huth grabbed a late consolation goal from a corner but Germany still suffered their heaviest defeat against the Azzurri since losing 5-2 in a friendly in 1939.

Hesitant in midfield and toothless in attack, Germany spent the first 15 minutes giving away possession to an aggressive Italy side.

Gilardino netted after four minutes, poking in the rebound after keeper Jens Lehmann parried Fabio Cannavaro's header.

Italy made it 2-0 three minutes later. Mauro Camoranesi intercepted a pass and slid the ball forward to Gilardino, who broke the offside trap before setting up Toni for an easy finish.

It took Germany 23 minutes to create their first shot on goal, Sebastian Deisler forcing Gianluigi Buffon into a diving save at the end of a scramble in the area.

The visitors always looked more likely to ship another goal rather than pull one back and Italy's third arrived six minutes before the break when midfielder De Rossi headed in Camoranesi's cross at the far post.

Juergen Klinsmann made two substitutions at halftime, bringing on Gerald Asamoah for striker Lukas Podolski and Christoph Metzelder for defender Per Mertesacker.

Klinsmann's side looked more lively after the interval, Michael Ballack narrowly failing to make contact with a centre by Miroslav Klose.

But Del Piero added a fourth goal for Italy by heading in from close range after Lehmann had tangled with one of his defenders at the far post on 57 minutes.

Chelsea defender Huth side-footed the ball in following a corner in the 82nd minute.

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