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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Euro 2008 Qualifier: Ukraine 1 x Italia 2

This was Roberto Donadoni's twelfth game as head coach, and also marked his 12th different lineup. According to Marco Civoli of RAI Sports, he has selected 47 different players in his brief reign as the Azzurri manager. For this important game, he made five changes from the last match with France: Christian Panucci, Massimo Ambrosini, Simone Perrotta, Vincenzo Iaquinta, and Antonio Di Natale. Interestingly, Cristiano Lucarelli, who plays in Ukraine and supplied Donadoni with information about virtually half of the opposing team, joined Alex Del Piero in the terraces of the Olympic Stadium at Kiev. Coming into this tie, Italy had 17 points after 8 games. Ukraine had 13 after 7 games.

Italy used a 4-2-3-1 formation that was much more physically imposing than the one we saw on Saturday. Ukraine implemented a tight 4-5-1, and man-marked the Azzurri attackers. In the third minute, Andriy Shevchenko, on a well-taken free kick, grazed the crossbar. He had a few more chances, and was playing very well, along with his quick Ukrainian teammates. Italy, in the first 20 minutes, had only two clear goal-scoring chances with Antonio Di Natale, who spun around his marker, but could not complete the shot with accuracy. A few minutes later, Vincenzo Iaquinta missed a long-range shot.

Again, Sheva was dangerous on a free kick from about 35 meters. Gigi Buffon did well to parry the ball down and out of danger. In the 39th minute, against the run of play, a great cross by Andrea Pirlo was headed clinically into the right corner by Antonio Di Natale. The half ended with Italy ahead, although they were dominated by Ukraine. Offensively, they showed very little, but importantly, converted on their one good chance. Unfortunately, Fabio Cannavaro picked up a yellow card, and will miss the next game in October versus Georgia.

The second half could be summed up very concisely. Italy had two occasions to score a goal. Di Natale executed a diving header in the 47th minute, but a good save by Olexandr Shovkovskiy kept it out. He then scored on a breakaway from a perfect through ball by Max Ambrosini in the 77th. In between, Andriy Shevchenko intercepted a ball from a mistake by Andrea Barzagli, and only the best keeper in the world, Buffon, would have stopped his ensuing shot. A few minutes later, the Azzurri could not clear the ball in the box, and Sheva scored past Buffon in the 71st minute.

This was a hard-fought victory, and very important for the road to Austria/Switzerland. Especially since Scotland upset France in Paris to take the lead in Group B on 21 points. Italy is in second place with 20 points, and France is now third on 19.

After the game, Mister Donadoni embraced each one of his players. He had been under intense media scrutiny and criticism. His post-game comments to RAI Sports were very terse. "We played well and I'm proud of the boys. Scotland's result? That doesn't concern me now... This wasn't the last beach." The last phrase was in response to the Italian media using the term about his tenure. It refers to the film, "On The Beach," which was about survivors of a nuclear event.

Fabio Capello, a commentator for RAI Sports, had the following comments after the game:
"Against Hungary, we played for 70 minutes. Against France for 80, and tonight we played for 90. The team is growing, but we are still not dominating out on the pitch... Ukraine had great counter-attacks... The five changes helped the team. They were much better than against France."
To view video highlights, please click here.

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