Saturday 14 June 2008

Italy downbeat but unbowed

Gianluca Zambrotta was a relieved man on Friday night. Ten minutes into the second half of Italy's game against Romania he looked on in horror as Adrian Mutu intercepted his header back to Gianluigi Buffon and scored. Luckily, Zambrotta's defensive colleague Christian Panucci equalised within seconds and the 1-1 draw kept the Azzurri's UEFA EURO 2008™ campaign alive.

Strange times
Defeat would have ended Italian hopes of progress from Group C, with Roberto Donadoni's men having previously lost 3-0 to the Netherlands. As it is, they still have something to play for when they return to Zurich to face France on Tuesday. Still, the AC Milan-bound Zambrotta was ruing his slip. "I'm a player with a lot of experience and I must avoid making mistakes in these kind of matches," the 31-year-old said. "Thankfully, we found the net a couple of minutes later. This is a strange period – we are playing more attacking football compared with the 2006 [FIFA] World Cup, but we lack precision in front of goal."

'Make or break'
In the event, it was a missed chance at the other end that was the main talking point as Buffon saved Adrian Mutu's late penalty. The goalkeeper was nonetheless disappointed by the result. "It seems we have been a bit unlucky this week," the Juventus player said. "It's true they missed a penalty, but we really deserved to win – we played with heart, yet it wasn't enough. Now it's make or break for us because we have to beat France to qualify for the quarter-finals. The situation is similar to the game against Sweden at UEFA EURO 2004™. I hope this time the conclusion will be different for us."

Toni's belief
Frustration has been particularly acute for centre-forward Luca Toni, who has done everything bar score in the finals so far. But he suggested Buffon's penalty save could be a turning point. "Everything is going wrong right now," said the FC Bayern München man. "[Goalkeeper Bogdan] Lobonţ locked the Romanian door tonight, but I think the penalty saved by Buffon could mark a new beginning for us at EURO. We have collected a draw and a loss so far, so maybe against France we could obtain our first win in Austria and Switzerland."