|Anticipation and hype surrounded
this modern day clash of the titans, perhaps more suited
for the Coliseum rather than the modern day arena of
Stadio Olimpico in Rome. In the end the game turned into
a tactical battle with Glenn Hoddle coming out on top
over Cesare Maldini.
Entering the game England only needed a draw to qualify for France 98, whereas Italy had to win. The huge Stadio Olimpico, the most intimidating of Italian stadiums, was so loud and menacing prior to kick off that even Paul Ince who has played in Cup finals and big European games before, felt the most nervous in his career and David Seaman felt distinctly nauseous. Ninety minutes later 10,000 travelling English fans were found to be making all the noise in celebration, whilst the rest of the stadium was in near silence.
Until Saturday, Italy had played 15 World Cup matches in Rome and won each. However, on the night of the England game the sheer belief that they could beat their Anglo opponents just was not there. Mario Van der Ende was the Dutch referee on the night. Despite his Italian first name and his reported love of all things Italian (food and football) was completely impartial. Hoddle remarked afterwards "the referee was absolutely magnificent, and if we had not qualified I would have said the same thing". Van der Endes most fundamental decisions came within a period of five minutes, late in the second half.
Firstly, Del Piero fell down from Tony Adams tackle. For a spilt second most English hearts stopped as they feared the worst, although Van der Ende booked Del Piero for diving. Then Di Livio, booked in the first half for a rash tackle on Graeme Le Saux, made a late two footed tackle on Sol Campbell, resulting in him receiving his marching orders. That meant that for the last quarter of an hour Italy were playing with only ten men and had already lost arguably their most influential player, the brilliant Paulo Maldini on 31 minutes. The Italians were so fired up for this game with so much at stake and lost their cool after being frustrated by Englands coolness, especially in not reacting to any Latin madness. In essence Italy were their own worst enemies, unable to work out how to break down a very difficult and organised England side. Ince, deservedly man of the match played with his usual passion and hunger. His head was gashed by Demetrio Albertinis elbow after only 12 minutes. This resulted in six stitches, then he had to go off again in the second half when the wound reopened. This time returning with his head rebandaged.
Comparisons could easily be made of the importance of this match with the England-Poland clash in Chorzow eight years ago. Again a 0-0 away draw secured Englands passage to the World Cup; that time Italia 1990. However, it could so easily have been a different story if Tarasiewiczs 30-yard shot had gone in under the crossbar, instead of rebounding off it. Stoppage time in Rome almost caused the same anxiety for England. Ninety minutes of cancelling one another out suddenly turned into a frantic one minute.
Firstly, Ian Wright hit the outside of the near post of an open net from the most acute of angles; then immediately Italy broke off on one last desperate counter attack. The extremely talented Alessandro Del Piero delivered the perfect cross for Christian Vieri , who narrowly headed wide. Of the incident Hoddle said "I really thought I was dreaming. I just could not believe my eyes. One second Wrightie had hit a post, the next Vieri was going to score. I was convinced the ball was going in. David Seaman said he knew it was going wide. I wish hed told me". That was the only time in a game controlled by England that they could be said to be lucky. "We deserved to win" said Hoddle, "and as a perfectionist Im disappointed we didnt. Were not the finished article but tonights game has done us the world of good". Gascoigne said "It was great to see them chasing the ball; they were desperate".
The Milan-based Gazzetta dello Sport praised the English team remarking that "the Lions who once knew only how to launch the ball and run under it, tackle, cross and mix it up, now dribble with skill, take control of the action, take possession with elegance and look for the winning chance".
However, in spite of the increasing sophistication of English football, the problem of hooliganism continues with Englands travelling supporters. A minority of Englands 10,000 supporters were involved continually in ugly exchanges with riot police up in the stands.
"Now the hard work starts" Hoddle said after Saturdays game; keeping a sense of perspective amongst all the celebration. England now go to France 98 with the best team since Sir Alf Ramseys side left for Mexico in 1970, as reigning World Champions. This really is a measure of Hoddles achievement, which started with Venables rejuvenation. The game on Saturday might not have been the most entertaining, but will certainly go down as a classic. The days of Taylor the "Turnip" certainly seem a long time ago now.
ITALY ( 1-3-4-2 ) Peruzzi, Costacurta, Nesta, Cannavaro, Maldini (Bennarrivo, 32 Min), Di Livio (sent off 77 Min), Albertini, D Baggio, Zola (Del Piero,63 Min), Vieri, Inzaghi.
ENGLAND ( 3-5-2 ) Seaman, Southgate, Adams, Campbell, Le Saux, Batty, Gascoigne( Butt, 89 Min ), Ince, Beckham, Wright, Sheringham.
REFEREE : M Van der Ende (Holland)
ATTENDANCE : 81, 200.
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