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Magnificent Italy scale the heights
« on: July 05, 2006, 10:27:49 AM »

Magnificent Italy scale the heights
By : Henry Winter in Dortmund, 05/07/2006

'We deserve to be in the final and it would have been unjust if we lost'
The Italian job: goalscorers Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero celebrate
Germany (0) 0 Italy (0) 2
After extra time

In crisis at home, in clover abroad, Italian football continues to dominate global headlines. Devastated by the Serie A refereeing scandal that threatens four clubs with relegation, the land of Calcio has been rocked back on its expensive heels these past few months but last night they composed an ode to joy on German soil. And the world's hearts sang with Italy.

La Scala in Milan could not have staged a drama as extraordinary as the one that broke out in extra time in the steel-and-concrete bear-pit that was the Westfalenstadion yesterday. Perhaps it was the imminent threat of a penalty shoot-out against the clinical Germans that so focused Italian minds. Perhaps it was the desire to give a proud people back home some respite from domestic travails that lifted them to such Olympian heights.

When the chance came to break through the momentarily dishevelled ranks of Germany's defence, Italy raced through, scoring memorable goals through Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero. Against the odds, Marcello Lippi's team have reached Sunday's World Cup final in Berlin, where they await the winners of this evening's semi-final between Portugal and France.

No one, not even the most one-eyed Germany fan, could or should begrudge Italy victory. Their goals were special, destined to go down in World Cup history as shimmering with class and significance.

Grosso's gem was created by Andrea Pirlo, a constant source of invention in Italy's midfield. Holding possession on the edge of Jens Lehmann's box, Pirlo cunningly slid the ball through to Grosso, the Palermo left-back who curled the ball past the German goalkeeper and in. Sensational.

Italian lightning struck twice. Moments later, as the clock touched 120 minutes, the band of blue-shirted brothers went through the gears again. Del Piero triggered the surge in midfield, before racing 50 yards to support Alberto Gilardino.

Accepting the return pass with a typically deft touch, Del Piero guided the ball unerringly around Lehmann. Eleven years after his international debut, Del Piero is still doing important national service. Memory banks from Lombardy to Sicily will be heaving after these goals, and so will the record books. Germany have now never beaten Italy in five World Cup attempts.

The Azzurri choirs on the terraces launched into their songs of praise for Grosso and Del Piero, understandably so because their goals were touched with breathless beauty, but the man of the match, the gladiator who gave Italy their belief, was Fabio Cannavaro. The will to win of Italy's captain illuminated this wonderful arena.

Cynics might argue that Italy's super-human efforts were rooted in the reality that the Westfalenstadion had become the largest shop-window in the world. At least seven of Marcello Lippi's starting XI could be up for sale soon, including Cannavaro.

Given all their domestic distractions, it had been impossible not to admire the steely resolve of Cannavaro and company as they largely controlled an initially slow-moving, ultimately thrilling semi-final. Small of frame but large of stature, Cannavaro has proved an immense presence throughout these sun-drenched weeks in Germany.

Italy's captain, at 32 still the most accomplished centre-half in the world, put in tackle after tackle, interception after interception, three times thwarting Lukas Podolski as the lead contender for Young Player of the 2006 World Cup threatened. One tackle on Miroslav Klose combined all the Cannavaro traits of timing, concentration and commitment, forming a split-second master-class for aspiring defenders.

Whenever the Germans sought to light a candle of ambition, Cannavaro arrived to snuff it out. In front of him, Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso proved alert sentries, breaking up attacks, suffocating the space around the vaunted Michael Ballack.

Sadly, streaks of gamesmanship coloured the Azzurri play; as home fans screamed their disapproval, Italian players stayed down and rolled theatrically when lightly challenged, the main culprit being Francesco Totti. Yet touches of silk were woven through the blue tapestry, glimpses of pure Italian artistry seemingly plucked from the walls of the Uffizi. Simone Perrotta, born in Ashton-under-Lyne before returning to the land of his father, went close. So did Grosso.

Jurgen Klinsmann's side, missing the midfield authority of the suspended Torsten Frings, were struggling to find the rhythm that had guided them to the semi-final. Podolski volleyed wildly over. Bernd Schneider shot narrowly over. Klose wriggled through but was denied by the diving Gianluigi Buffon, a formidable force for Italy. As normal time closed, Ballack sent a free-kick over Buffon's crossbar.

The real fireworks were reserved for extra time. Gilardino brilliantly turned Ballack and hit a post. Then Gianluca Zambrotta smacked a shot against Lehmann's crossbar. Germany, too nervy, wasted a simple chance when Podolski headed wide from David Odonkor's cross.

Podolski almost made amends when he drilled the ball goalwards, only for Buffon to save. In an epic period of extra time, the chances kept coming. Lehmann reacted superbly to push away a Pirlo effort. Italy then sped away down the road to Berlin, driven there by Grosso, Del Piero and most of all Cannavaro.

Match details

Germany (4-4-2): Lehmann; Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm; Schneider (Odonkor, 82), Ballack, Kehl, Borowski (Schweinsteiger, 71); Podolski, Klose.
Booked: Borowski, Metzelder.
Italy (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso; Pirlo, Gattuso; Camoranesi (Iaquinta, 90), Totti, Perrotta (Del Piero, 103); Toni (Gilardino, 73).
Goals: Grosso (119), Del Piero (120).
Booked: Camoranesi.
Man of the match: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy).
Referee: B Archundia (Mexico).

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