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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hungary 3 x Italy 1: The ghost of Puskas was evident in Budapest tonight

The stadium was renamed after the Hungarian great, Ferenc Puskas, who died last year. For a team ranked 67th by the World Elo Football ratings, Hungary looked reminiscent of the glory days of Mr. Puskas from the 1950s.

The Azzurri dominated for the first 30 minutes, but after that, it was all Hungary in this very humiliating loss. The Italian defense, especially Marco Materazzi and Fabio Cannavaro, were beaten by vastly less experienced players. At other times, the Italians failed to mark players in the penalty area. One could sense what might happen. The half ended drawn at 0 x 0. Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Acquilani had the best chances for Italy. Hungary put together three or four chances in the final quarter hour.

Donadoni made a few substitutions for the second half. One of them, Antonio Di Natale, scored three minutes after his introduction into the game. From a tight pass by Alberto Acquilani, Di Natale deftly toe-poked with his left foot into the right hand corner of the Hungarian goal. Instead of lifting the play of the Azzurri, this goal seemed to galvanize the Hungarians. In the 61st minute, a free ball in the penalty area (it was headed down by a Hungarian but not cleared by the defense) was savagely volleyed past Buffon by Roland Juhasz. Five minutes later, Cannavaro dragged down Vass, and the referee awarded a penalty kick. Zoltan Gera calmly placed the ball perfectly into the right corner as Gigi Buffon dove to the left.

The Azzurri pressed forward, but as was a common theme in this game, could not string together many passes. Others were either off-target, or the ball was played too far into open space. Max Ambrosini and Fabio Grosso had the best Italian chances in the second half. In the 76th minute, Cannavaro was again beaten badly on the wing by Gera, and the resulting cross was clinically finished by Robert Seczecin. Had it not been for some nice saves by Buffon in the waning minutes, the scoreline would have been more inflated.

If I am Roberto Donadoni, I have to be concerned about three things: match fitness, team organization, along with the inability to shut down a counter attack. In the old days, a one goal lead by an Italian team usually meant the game was over. The next game for the Azzurri is the big rematch with France on 08 September for Euro 2008 qualification. Much work will need to be done, and Mr. Donadoni will only have five days to prepare the team. Fortunately, the game will be in Milan.

The most telling statistic tonight was the shots on target: Hungary had 16 shots (10 were on target), and the Azzurri had 14 (only 5 on target). Hungary also had 6 corners to only 2 for Italy.

To view the highlights, please click here.

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