Luca leads Italy to semis
Sat, July 1, 2006
HAMBURG -- In the beginning, Marcello Lippi promised the launching of a new Italian philosophy. And Luca Toni was supposed to be just the man to fit it.
There was a lot of believe-it-when-you-see-it reaction when Lippi became the fifth Italian coach of the last five World Cups and announced the Azzurri would show a makeover, be an attack-type team instead of either defending you to death or boring you to death or, most often, both.
And Italy was bringing a new star to the stage, in Serie A leading scorer Toni, to lead the way.
Yesterday, finally, seeing was believing.
Toni, who had a terrible tournament to this point, scored two goals 10 minutes apart to put Ukraine away 3-0 here last night as the Italians showed positive play all the way.
It was Italy's 75th World Cup game and it equalled their second-biggest winning margin in a World Cup game.
"I'm really happy and really proud of what the players did today. I'm especially happy for Toni. It was really strange that he did not score before tonight,'' said Lippi.
Described as looking like a truck but playing with the engine of a Ferrari, the 29-year-old scored 31 goals with Fiorentina.
"Those goals were really important for me and the squad,'' said Toni.
And suddenly, from a nation that had been grousing about their group, there's now going to be talk of going all the way.
"This is a very satisfying win,'' said Lippi of Italy's seventh trip to World Cup semifinals.
"I said before the match that if we beat Ukraine, then anything is possible.''
It's three-time World Cup-winning Germany against three-time World Cup-winning Italy in the semifinal Tuesday in Dortmund, and now there are omens at play Italy's way.
Italy played Germany in the semifinal in 1970 and in the final in 1982 and won both. They'd go on to lose that '70 final to Pele and Brazil, and lost to Brazil again in the '94 final.
Every 12 years they get to the final.
"Germany is going to be difficult. But it's going to be very difficult for Germany, too,'' said Lippi.
"It will be a very tough game against the Germans as they are at home and have knocked out Argentina. But we're playing well now and are ready to take them on,'' said Toni.
Maybe, this night, it was that the Azzurri just were not going to put themselves through a too-close-for-comfort game in this sort of situation again. Especially after what they'd watched earlier in the day. Four times Italy has managed to go to shootouts at the World Cup. Four times they've lost.
And for those who, for some reason, might like the bunker-mentality way the Italians had previously played the game on the world stage, the coach can still point to the scoreboard. Five games into this World Cup and the Italians have given up but one goal - a fluke own-goal against the Americans.
In this one, Gianluca Zambrotta put a large left foot into one in the sixth minute for a 1-0 lead. Italy put down a Ukraine uprising in the second half when the first-timers at the World Cup hit the crossbar twice.
Toni headed one home just inside the post in the 59th minute and directed a Zambrotta pass to the back of the net in the 69th, to kill the Ukrainian will.
He was the eighth Italian player to score in this World Cup. And while he'll own the headlines, it was Gennaro Gattuso who was voted man of the match for keying the transition game.
"The Italians have a great team and they don't forgive mistakes,'' said Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin.
Lippi dedicated the game to Gianluca Pessotto, the former Italian international who plummeted from a window at Juventus headquarters in Torino, a possible suicide attempt tied to the match-fixing scandal in Italy.
Lippi coached Juventus to five Italian titles.
For a few hours, at least, the win put the focus on the field and Italy had a feel-good day at the World Cup.