Italy survived elimination from Euro 2008's Group C after narrowly avoiding defeat by Romania, who had a penalty that would have given them a 2-1 lead saved late in the second half.
|Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's penalty save first came off his right |
hand and then rebounded off his right foot to safety [Reuters]
The game in the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich on Friday ended 1-1 after Romania had taken the lead much to Italy's chagrin in the 54th minute, following a dreadful mistake by Gianluca Zambrotta.
The Italian left back attempted to head a deep diagonal ball from inside Romania's own half back to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from the edge of his area. But the ball fell short and Adrian Mutu stole in to tap the ball past the Italian keeper.
However, the Romanians' joy lasted for less than two minutes as with the next attack Christian Panucci, the Italian right back, poked the ball into the net from two yards out after a Giorgio Chiellini header across goal.
At 35 years and two months old Panucci became the oldest player to score a goal in open play in the European Championships.
But the game would be auspicious for him for another reason as with 11 minutes to go Panucci challenged Daniel Niculae to reach a low cross in the six-yard box, and with the suggestion of a grapple from the Italian, the referee awarded a penalty to Romania.
However, Mutu's resulting penalty was placed within comfortable range for Buffon's outstretched right hand, and the ball was battered away.
The match was open throughout and although Italy had considerable opportunities to score in both halves, Romania might feel they should have deservingly won.
After testing Buffon early on with a couple of sharp shots, Romania hit an upright in the 19th minute when Christian Chivu's 40 yard free kick took a significant deflection off Panucci onto the post.
Romania kept the pressure on Italy and took any chance to shoot at goal until about the half an hour mark.
The roles then reversed with Luca Toni a constant threat.
Towards half time Italy missed three chances within the space of a couple of minutes. Romanian defender Paul Codrea made a last ditch challenge on Simone Perrotta in the six-yard box and goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont made two saves after incessant Italian pressure to keep the game goalless at half time.
The game's end-to-end flow continued into the second half. Toni was denied by the linesman's flag two minutes after the break and a swerving shot from Mutu was saved by Buffon six minutes later.
A minute after that Romania had taken the lead, and with more bite and opportunism in attack they might have put themselves two points closer to the knockout stage.
Netherlands in command
In the late Group C match, the Netherlands comfortably defeated France 4-1 to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Arjen Robben came on as a substitute to set up one goal and score another, helping the Dutch take top spot in the group.
|Kuyt (far right), opened the scoring to pave the |
way for a dominant Dutch performance [AFP]
France now need to beat Italy in its last match to stand any chance of going through to the last eight.
Dutchman Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a header, setting the scene for a dominant performance by the men in orange.
Robin van Persie doubled the Netherlands' lead on the hour after tucking the ball into the French net from a Arjen Robben cross.
Thierry Henry scored his record 45th goal for France in the 71st minute to offer France some hope, but Robben scored seconds later to restore the Netherlands' two-goal lead.
Wesley Sneijder smashed home a 20-yard drive in injury time to bury the 1988 Euro tournament winners.
"Italy was already so beautiful and this is exactly the same," Sneijder, who was picked man of the match for the second time in a row, said.
"Let's build a party now. Not too much because we still need to play the quarter-finals."
France played some good football at points during the match, no doubt mindful of the uninspiring goalless draw against Romania in their opening group contest.
But even when the Dutch started to falter in the second half, Edwin van der Sar made three vital saves to keep his team in firm command of the match.