Italy 1-1 Romania. The Azzurri ain’t out of Euro 2008 just yet, but there’s not much keeping them in. Their defence is still shaky, the midfield looked a little better but quickly ran out of ideas (especially Pirlo), and Luca Toni still cruelly remains goalless. Well… to be honest he did score today, but the refereeing team once again decided Italy should get the shaft.
So it all comes down to Italy vs. France on Tuesday. Or does it? Les Bleus just got trashed by Netherlands 4-1 in the second match today (probably time to start taking the Oranje seriously folks), which not only means that Holland are through to the next round, but that if Romania beat them on day 3 Italy and France can pack their bags. Who would have thought that out of the 4 teams present in the “Group of Death”, those on the brink of elimination would precisely be the two 2006 World Cup finalists.
The world is upside down, and anyone wearing a blue shirt isn’t smiling.
(From Gazzetta): Some people are miracle workers, Gigi Buffon is one of them. The Azzurri keeper is essentially the only reason Italy are still in this tournament, deflecting Mutu’s penalty kick in minute 80. The real miracle of the day however, which should have been the Euro Pass ball (which Adidas are so proud of) drilling into Bogdan Lobont’s goal, did not come true today. Italy drew 1-1 against Romania (goals from Mutu and Panucci) creating a lot of questions about their future in Euro 2008.
Tactically, Roberto Donadoni’s pre-announced changes began with Del Piero, Grosso, Chiellini, Perrotta and De Rossi in the starting eleven. A new strategy from the Italian coach (as common sense would have dictated after the catastrophic display vs. Netherlands) but seen as a contradiction by some (Gazzetta in particular). Indeed, the Don was taking a risk today by selecting two strikers and a trequartista (Camoranesi), which wasn’t exactly familiar territory for Italy. However, if there was a time for Donadoni to be daring that time was now.
The Azzurri started the game with nerve, determination and energy. 9 minutes into the game, Alessandro Del Piero (wearing the anticipated captain’s armband) found himself of the receiving end of a header in great position, but Romanian defender Dorin Goian was in the right place at the right time, deflecting behind the goal. On the left wing, where Fabio Grosso seemed to be looking in WC2006-form (and better!), danger was always lurking for Romania. One really has to wonder why Donadoni waited until game 2 to make old Fabio a starter.
Nevertheless as much things were looking better in the offensive zone, Fabio Cannavaro’s ghost was still lurking in the Italian defense. On their first real run forward, Romania almost opened the score but Adrian Mutu’s left-footed blast (after a slip by Panucci allowed the Fiorentina striker through on goal) found the ready hands of “Super Gigi” Buffon. In minute 18, Italy’s nº1 got to work again by deflecting Christian Tamas’s long-range free kick. 20 minutes into the half: no shots for Italy and two dangerous chances for Romania. Make that three actually, as Cristian Chivu’s free-kick found the head of David Niculae and the deflection of Panucci… straight onto the post. Zambrotta cleared the ball as everyone wearing a blue shirt held their breath.
Italy were not looking good. A wobbly defence, a midfield having a tough time containing Chivu and Radoi’s physical presence, and Luca Toni still unable to hit the target: 27 minutes in, the Bayern giant honed his aim and narrowly missed the post. Still very far from perfection. What made matters even worse, was the incredible ease with which Piturca’s men were given opportunity to take shots (Răzvan Raţ grazing the post in minute 29). With the pace of the game increasing, Romania were exhibiting an optimal organizational scheme while the Azzurri sometimes looked like they were improvising: no connection in midfield (crucially missing a reference point) and lots of lost balls.
In the 39th minute however, Italy finally created some real thrills. Straight from a corner kick, Toni’s header forced ex-Viola teammate Lobont to make a spectacular save. Finally some fighting spirit!. Pushing harder and managing to unhinge the organized Romanian defence, the Azzurri finally found the back of the net shortly before the half: a looping pass forward found Luca Toni unmarked and this time Lobont could not stop Luca’s header. Giving him a hand however was the linesman, disallowing the goal for an (inexistent) offside.
In the second period Italy immediately began pressing, but danger kept lurking close to Italy’s box in the name of Mutu: in minute 54, the Romania striker forced Buffon to put his skills to the test and save his low drive. A warning sign. Just a minute later, hara-kiri for Italy: trying to intercept a Romanian cross, Gianluca Zambrotta attempted a dangerous backpass header to Buffon, without noticing Adrian Mutu slipping behind him. Getting on the ball first, it was little trouble for the Fiorentina striker to beat Buffon and put his country in the lead. 1-0 Romania.
Fortunately for Italy just a minute later, Christian Panucci got to work and put his deadly “danger man of the box” skills to work: Pirlo corner, redirected header by Chiellini, winning tap-in by the Roma defender. Woo-ha. 1-1.
More importantly, the Azzurri now had a little momentum on their side: time for Donadoni to play the Antonio Cassano card (on for Perrotta). On his part, coah Victor Piturca ordered his Tricolorii to fall back, tighten the D line around the box, and operate on counters (something which Mutu & friends are starting to get really good at). A good strategy, especially when you have a in-form keeper like Bogdan Lobont, able to deny Daniele De Rossi a great diving header after a lay-up by Toni. It was minute 75.
A few minutes passed, a tired Del Piero left his place to Fabio Quagliarella (Mr. opportunity) but with little effect. Instead, it was once again Romania creating danger on the other end. Minute 80, short corner played by Mutu, receiving the return pass & instantaneous cross for Daniel Niculae. Battling for the ball with Panucci, the Romanian striker fell to the ground: Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo pointed to the spot. Adrian Mutu vs. Buffon… shot in the middle… SUPER GIGI!!!! Hand save, foot save in quick succession, and the ball was cleared! Heart-attack time for Azzurri fans, and ten more minutes left to play that resulted in nothing.
The final whistle gives Italy its first point at Euro 2008, leaving them no other choice than to beat France on Tuesday. Even that may yet not be enough though. One can only hope that after scoring 3 vs. the Azzurri and 4 vs. Les Bleus, Netherlands will do the same vs. Romania. But did I mention they are already through to the quarter-finals and will almost surely play their B team?
|GOALSCORERS: 10’ Mutu (R), 56’ Panucci (I)|
|ITALY (4-3-1-2): Buffon – Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso – Pirlo, De Rossi, Perrotta (58’ Cassano) – Camoranesi (85’ Ambrosini) – Toni, Del Piero (77’ Quagliarella). (bench: Amelia, De Sanctis, Gamberini, Barzagli, Materazzi, Gattuso, Aquilani, Borriello, Di Natale). Coach: Donadoni|
|ROMANIA (4-4-1-1): Lobont – Contra, Tamas, Goian, Rat – Radoi (25’ Dica), Petre (60’ Nicolita), Codrea, Chivu – Mutu (88’ Cocis) – D.Niculae. (bench: Popa, Stancioiu, Marica, Sapunaru, Ghinea, Moti, M.Niculae, Cristea, Dica, Radu). Coach: Piturca.|