Archive for Saturday, July 1, 2006

Italy dispatches newcomer Ukraine for quarterfinal victory

July 1, 2006


— With defenders like this, Italy didn't really need spectacular offense to get past Ukraine and into the World Cup semifinal.

Luca Toni went ahead and showcased Italy's talent up front anyway.

With an early strike, a goal-saving scramble and an assist from defender Gianluca Zambrotta, Italy held off the World Cup newcomer, 3-0, on Friday, setting up a Tuesday match against host Germany.

One minute after Zambrotta kicked a ball off his own goalline to quash Ukraine's last hope of an upset, Toni scored his first World Cup goal just ahead of the hour mark with a header and added a second when he slid in Zambrotta's goalmouth pass in the 69th minute.

Zambrotta flew home early in the week to visit former Juventus teammate Gianluca Pessotto, who is fighting for his life after falling from a window at the Italian club team's headquarters in Turin. The defender poured his emotions into a sixth-minute run on the right, setting up a one-two with playmaker Francesco Totti and finishing it off with a searing 20-yard left foot drive that was too hot for goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkosvskyi to stop. Right after the match, Italy's players unfurled an Italian tricolor with the inscription "Pessotto we are with you."

Only Zambrotta's second goal in 56 games for Italy, it put the Azzurri in the situation they have perfected over decades of World Cup success: defending a slender lead. After a few narrow escapes, Toni made sure Italy did not have to worry until the final whistle.

And if they have a reputation for unattractive play to achieve that goal, it was never on show Friday.

Led by Totti, the Azzurri sparkled with little backheels and clean, crisp passing combinations that Ukraine could never match.

After seven seasons in Italy's Serie A, Ukraine's lone star Andriy Shevchenko no longer held any secrets for Italy's expert defense and could not give his president Victor Yushchenko any reason to cheer in the stands. Afterward, the Chelsea-bound player went up to the Italian fans, applauded them and bowed in respect.

In the end, Ukraine - the surprise team to make the quarterfinals in its maiden World Cup run - was finally exposed as a team which had too little to offer beyond a robust defense.


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