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September 23, 2000
Spanish sub sinks Italy
Spain squeezed into the semi-finals of the Olympic soccer tournament beating Italy 1-0 in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
The teams faced off at the Sydney Football Stadium hoping to put behind their none-too-impressive showing in the lead up to the quarters. The Azzurris were listless in their 1-0 defeat of Australia, gathered momentum with a 3-1 defeat of the tournament's find, Honduras, before tying 1-1 with Nigeria.
The Spaniards too made torturous progress. They spanked South Korea 3-0, were felled by a Zamarano blast, sinking 1-3 to Chile before recovering to beat Morocco 2-0.
For this clash of the European titans to be a worthwhile encounter, playmakers Xavi of Spain and Pirlo of Italy needed to make an outstanding contribution. But as it turned out, both teams played a very robust game, preferring to clash in midfield.
After a spate of free kicks on either sides of the field were muffed up, La Cruz of Spain made the most serious foray. In the 30th min, he took three defenders in his stride, switched to Xavi who let Tamudo through but his shot went abegging.
Shortly later, the crowd were on their feet as custodian Aranzubia of Spain dived low to his right to fend a Ventola bullet.
Up to the lemon break, Italy were better organised having earned a lion's share of the possession but it was Spain which had a better view of the goal and consequently, more chances.
On resumption, Spain's Jose Mari covered the length of the field, sneaked past several defenders and squared to Tamudo whose shot was cleared for a corner.
Italy then took control of the proceedings with Pirlo, Vannucchi and Ventola holding sway.
First, Pirlo sent a long ball from midfield to Comandini who at full tilt couldn't control the ball and Spain were spared the blushes.
Then Ventola at the top of the Spanish box set it up for Ambrosini whose first timer was saved by Aranzubia.
In the 68th min, the peerless Pirlo let go a 25 yard scorcher but Aranzubia was up to the task.
Spain broke the shackles in the 85th min when Xavi dispossessed an Italian defender, laid it off to Angulo whose shot was blocked.
Another counter against the run of play made the day for the Spaniards. In the 86th min, Velazaman swung the ball on the right to find the industrious Xavi who put a through ball to substitute Gabri. The Spanish sub struck firmly to find the net via the upright. Spain 1 - Italy 0.
Italy in desperation threw everybody into offence. But it was too little, too late for the Italians. They won the battle in the midfield, but ran out of ideas in front of the goal. Finally, they paid the penalty for giving too much space for Xavi and Velazaman to manouevre on the breakaway counter.
So having outsmarted the Italians, Spain - gold medallists in 1992 - now advance to the semis. The Spaniards do look cocky as they prepare to take on the United States, who got the better of Japan 5-4 over penalties after the teams were locked 2-2 at full-time.
In the other semi-final, Chile will play Cameroon. The former beat Nigeria 4-1, while Cameroon shocked Brazil with a golden goal after a 1-1 full-time deadlock.
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