Football: De Bilde strike stuns Italians

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BELGIUM PULLED off a shock 3-1 win over Italy in a friendly international in Lecce thanks to two goals in the final 20 minutes.

Belgium took a surprise lead in the sixth minute when Branko Strupar met a corner from Marc Wilmots with a firm header and the well-positioned Sheffield Wednesday striker Gilles De Bilde headed in from close range.

Italy bounced back in the 26th minute with a spectacular debut goal from the Parma left winger Paolo Vanoli. Mbo Mpenza's headed clearance fell to Vanoli 20 metres out and his rocketing drive gave Belgium's goalkeeper Ronald Gaspercic no chance.

But while Italy enjoyed the bulk of possession after the break, it was the Belgians who took the lead when headed home a cross from the right by Regis Genaux in the 70th minute. Five minutes from time Belgium, who are joint-hosts with the Netherlands for next year's European Championship finals, completed the victory when Yves Vanderhaeghe fired in a low shot which Gianluigi Buffon could only parry out to Bart Goor who scored.

World champions France scored three second half goals to beat Croatia 3-0 in another of Saturday's games.

The World Cup winger Robert Pires caught the Croatian defence cold to score seconds after the restart.

Florian Maurice and Tony Vairelles, who have only a dozen caps between them, hit their first goals for France in the space of six minutes midway through the second half.

Johan Micoud of the French champions Bordeaux had a fine match, dictating play in midfield alongside Arsenal's Patrick Vieira, who hit a post in the first half.

Youri Djorkaeff, a second- half substitute for Zinedine Zidane as coach Roger Lemerre rested some World Cup veterans, hit the post twice in the second half.

Yesterday, a late goal from Mehmet Scholl secured 1-0 victory for Germany against Norway in Oslo.

Norway seemed to be in control of the game until the Bayern Munich player fired home a free kick two minutes into injury time.

Germany's veteran midfielder Lothar Matthaus played his 143rd international for Germany to tie the world record previously held by the former Swedish national team goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli. Ravelli was in the Swedish team that reached the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup in America.