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   June 8, 2002 | 1800 IST



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Italy fume over disallowed goals

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Simon Evans

Two late goals in four minutes gave Croatia a surprise 2-1 win over Italy in World Cup group G on Saturday -- but the Italians were convinced they were robbed of victory by having two goals disallowed.

Italy thought they had grabbed an injury time equaliser but the effort was ruled out by a linesman, apparently for a foul by Filippo Inzaghi.

The same official had also disallowed a 50th minute Christian Vieri goal through offside as Italy followed competition big guns France, Portugal and Argentina to fall to upset defeats in a World Cup full of shocks so far.

Afterwards, Vieri raged: "Those weren't division one or even division two referees, they were village referees... Now we absolutely must win against Mexico."

New cup favourites Italy had led through a Vieri header in the 55th minute and looked to be heading for their second straight win in the finals before a stirring, late Croat revival.

Substitute striker Ivica Olic pulled the Croats level in the 73rd minute before midfielder Milan Rapaic stunned the Italians four minutes later, throwing group G wide open.

Italy, Mexico and Croatia, third in the 1998 World Cup, all have three points ahead of Sunday's game between Mexico and Ecuador.

The last time Italy lost in normal time in the finals was their first game of the 1994 World Cup when they lost 1-0 to Ireland. They still went on to reach the final where they lost on penalties to Brazil.

Saturday's defeat also ruined Italy hopes of equalling Brazil's record of 13 consecutive finals matches without defeat.

Croatia coach Mirko Jozic said: "It was diehard football against a tough Italian team. I am glad my players just how I asked them to.

"All I can do is point out the heart of my players, they were sport heroes in tonight's match. In the last 20 minutes we had three injured players and I didn't know what to do.

"They were dying for each other on the pitch."


Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni was forced to reorganise when central defender Alessandro Nesta suffered what appeared to be a foot injury in the 24th minute and was replaced by Marco Materazzi.

The Croats took advantage of the change to gain the initiative with Zvonimir Soldo going close with a low drive.

Just two minutes after coming on Materazzi was then forced to clear off the line after Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon could only get one hand on a shot from Davor Vugrinec who had linked up well with Milan Rapaic.

Vugrinec and Rapaic, both drafted in after Croatia's poor showing in their 1-0 opening game defeat to Mexico were beginning to cause problems for the Italians and Rapaic forced another save out of Buffon just before the break.

But the Italians reasserted themselves after the break with Vieri claiming his eighth goal in seven matches in the finals outjumping Josip Simunic to head home at the back post.

But this time the Italians failed to defend their lead.

Substitute Olic brought things level when he slid in a cross from Robert Jarni.

Then Rapaic beat Materazzi and Paolo Maldini and fired in a shot which was headed out by Christian Panucci -- the ball was played back into Rapaic whose hooked shot took a slight deflection and beat a stranded Buffon.

Three minutes from time Francesco Totti rapped the inside of the post from a 25-metre free kick but the ball ran across the Croatian goal before being cleared.

Italy have now failed to beat Croatia in a competitive match in three meetings, losing once and drawing once in qualifying for the 1996 European Championships.

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