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Watch out Europe, Italy are on the move
June 18, 2008 10:28 IST
- Images: France vs Italy
The Letzigrund Stadium, where they sealed a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 [Images] on Tuesday, is more famous for athletics and the fabulous Weltklasse meeting featuring world and Olympic champions than it is for soccer.
As every track fan knows, making a move at the right time, together with a little luck, are essential to winning races.
They are also the key to success at major soccer tournaments and Italy [Images] might just be moving into top gear at the right time.
If Euro 2008 was an 800 metres race, the potential medallists would now all be bunched at the bell at the end of the first lap, poised to start the sprint for home.
Italy started very slowly, and had no luck, in the first few strides, conceding a controversial goal in a 3-0 loss to the Dutch when Ruud van Nistelrooy [Images] was played onside by Christian Panucci [Images] despite the defender being off the field at the time.
But against Romania, Gianluigi Buffon saved a late penalty to earn Italy a point in a 1-1 draw, and versus France on Tuesday, the tide turned their way as early as the 10th minute.
Franck Ribery [Images], the creative playmaker in the French side, injured his knee and was driven off the field on a medical cart after a rash challenge on Gianluca Zambrotta.
France had to reorganise but left gaps in midfield and 15 minutes later suffered another calamity when central defender Eric Abidal was red carded for a foul on Luca Toni and they had to play for more than an hour with only 10 men.
Andrea Pirlo converted the subsequent penalty, Italy were ahead for the first time in the tournament and they consolidated their lead with a deflected second-half piledriver from Daniele De Rossi to secure a hard-earned 2-0 victory.
Italy next meet Spain in Sunday's quarter-final in Vienna, and they cannot be discounted now.
Indeed, this is not even the slowest start they have made to a tournament. In 1982, they began the World Cup with three dull draws against Poland (0-0), Peru (1-1) and Cameroon (1-1).
Italian journalists whistled coach Enzo Bearzot when he took a training session before the last group match with the African side that nonetheless saw them squeeze into the next stage.
Current coach Roberto Donadoni agreed Italy were a little fortunate with De Rossi's deflected goal on Tuesday, saying:
"Possibly we were a bit lucky with the deflection but I don't think we were that lucky. We've had lots of chances but not been able score more often."
If the world champions are into their stride, and perhaps now have a little luck on their side too, the rest of the pack had better keep one eye over their shoulder.
Complete Coverage: Euro 2008