Image of il grande Capitano, Fabio Cannavaro, courtesy
of Paul Blank and http://www.postproduktie.nl/
Late tonight in Larnaca (2145 local time), the Azzurri will play their first competitive game under the second reign of Marcello Lippi. During his previous stint, Italy lost only one competitive game (away against Slovenia in October 2004), and only two games (the other one away to Iceland in August 2004) out of 29 with Lippi on the bench.
It is very hot today on the ancient Mediterranean island of Cyprus. According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, it is 38 degrees Celsius. Riccardo Cucchi of RAI, who is calling the game tonight, said it is 37 degrees Celsius at kickoff.
A Divided Nation
Since 1974, Cyprus has been a divided island between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. It is a popular tourist destination that receives over two million visitors each year. The stadium in Larnaca holds only 10,000 spectators. The all-time record between Italy and Cyprus is 5-1-0, with the only draw occurring in Cyprus back in 1983.
- Alex Del Piero, who injured his thigh a few days ago, is with the team but unlikely to feature.
- Fabio Cannavaro returns to captain the Azzurri after his training injury at Euro 2008. Tonight will be his 117th cap for Italy. He is closing down on the all-time record held by Paolo Maldini (126 caps).
- Cannavaro has an interesting web site. To take a look, please click here. You can even send him an email message. :-)
When asked about tonight's game:Probable lineup: 4-4-2
"It will not be easy...Their football has grown in the last few years... It is almost a club level game."
When asked about Juventus:
"After 2 years of a sabbatical, we (at Juve) are ready for a new challenge in the Champions League."
Zambrotta, Gamberini, Cannavaro, Grosso
Camoranesi, Pirlo, De Rossi, Di Natale
Toni and Gilardino
Cyprus had no fear, and controlled the opening few minutes. Italy lost Gamberini almost immediately to injury, and he was substituted by Andrea Barzagli. In the 8th minute, on the Azzurri's first real chance, Toto Di Natale scored on a fine effort, assisted by Gilardino, to the lower left corner. But the Cypriots did not wilt in the oppressive heat. They forced Buffon to make several key saves, and then Italy lost another defender, Fabio Grosso, to injury in the 18th minute. Lippi was forced to replace him with Cassetti, which further complicated the somewhat apprehensive Italian back four.
In the 29th minute, Cyprus scored a merited equalizer. A ball was crossed in, Buffon parried it, but Cassetti, right in front of goal, could not clear it out before Aloneftis was gifted. Italy had one clear chance before the half ended. Cassetti shot hard to the inside right pole, but the Cypriot keeper, Giorgallidis, made a nice save with his knee. The half ended, 1 x 1, although Cyprus had 6 corners to 0 for the Azzurri.
Rino Gattuso replaced Luca Toni. Italy pushed forward for the winning goal. But despite great chances by Di Natale, De Rossi (twice), and Pirlo, they could not break down the Cypriots. The Azzurri defense again looked unorganized as #15 Christofi made Zambrotta and Cannavaro collide, went around both of them, had Buffon beaten, but shot the ball wide left. A few minutes later, from a corner, #3 Charalambous, had a great chance but just missed the right of the goal. The Azzurri defense was quite suspect tonight, and one sensed that the Cypriots might score a second goal. Again, on another counter-attack that resulted in a corner, #3, unmarked, missed to the left of the Italian goal.
Then, like a bolt from the sky, the Italian winner came in injury time. Gilardino passed to Camoranesi, who chipped a ball across the box, and Di Natale volleyed with his left past the Cypriot keeper. Cyprus deserved more, and Mister Lippi will need to work on the defense for the next game on Wednesday in Udine against Georgia.
"We got more than we deserved... We had a little bit of luck... We lost two defenders in the first quarter hour. It changed things. " Marcello Lippi
- Rino Gattuso broke his left wrist in a training game accident today (Sunday 07 September) in Gorizia (near Udine). He had surgery to reduce the fractures, and will be out of action for about a month. Nocerino will take his place.
- Grosso (two fractured ribs) and Gamberini (separated shoulder) are ruled out for the game with Georgia, who lost 1 x 2 to Ireland, yesterday. No replacements were named by Mister Lippi for these two injured players.