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Italy back in love with the Azzurri as Donadoni survives

The Italian press delighted in Tuesday night's 2-0 win over France in Zurich and praised the Netherlands for making the world champions' passage to the Euro 2008 quarter-finals possible by beating Romania by the same score.

Andrea Pirlo gave Italy the lead in the 25th minute from the penalty spot after Eric Abidal brought down Luca Toni in the area. To make matters worse for France, Abidal was sent off and the Italians sealed victory just after an hour when Daniele de Rossi's free-kick took a deflection off Thierry Henry to beat Grégory Coupet in the French goal.

"Viva L'Italia," beamed the front of Corriere dello Sport yesterday. "A great Azzurri night in Zurich."

"Too Beautiful!" read the front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport besides a photo of Pirlo celebrating opening the scoring.

Beating France would have been no use to Roberto Donadoni's side if the already-qualified Netherlands had lost to Romania. But Marco van Basten's team emphatically disproved pre-match suggestions that they might not put up too much resistance with a dominant display that enabled Italy to book themselves a quarter-final against Spain on Sunday.

"Today the Dutch ambassador to Italy should be called and given formal apologies for the air of suspicion that disturbed the eve [of the match]," wrote Candido Cannavo in La Gazzetta dello Sport. "The Netherlands won for themselves, for honesty and, as a consequence, for us."

Donadoni was also praised after being criticised for losing 3-0 to the Dutch in the opening match and drawing 1-1 with Romania, with speculation that the 2006 World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi would soon be back.

"Donadoni has taken the national team among the eight best sides in Europe with pride, conviction and unity that recalled the World Cup in Germany," wrote Gianluca Moresco in Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "Lippi's shadow has been distanced, for five days at least."

Speaking yesterday, Donadoni said that strikers are finding Euro 2008 more difficult than defenders because of the demands of a long season.

So far none of Italy's strikers have scored but the coach is refusing to come down hard on Toni, Antonio Cassano, Alessandro del Piero or Antonio di Natale. "I believe we are in the period of the season where it is not easy. After a long, hard season, it is a lot easier for defenders than attackers," Donadoni said.

He acknowledged that his assertion may not hold true for Spain, whose forwards have been flying, with David Villa scoring a hat-trick in their opening 4-1 win over Russia.

"I don't know if you can say it is the worst draw but they are tough," he said. "If you don't start brightly against them you will always be playing second fiddle. They are complicated opponents."

Luis Aragones, the Spain coach, said: "At this stage of the tournament any opponent was going to be difficult but they aren't the team I would have most liked to have met.

"We all know what Italy are like and it is not for nothing they are world champions. That tells us everything. They seemed dead and buried and now they are in the quarter-finals. Italy know how to cope with the good and bad times."

Belfast Telegraph


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