In front of the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, Zola fired the first shot in the build-up to England's crucial qualifier against Italy at Wembley on 12 February with a wonderful goal after only eight minutes against a plucky Northern Ireland side.
Bryan Hamilton, without seven regulars, opted for a 4-5-1 formation to try and protect his makeshift side, which featured the Blackpool youngster James Quinn as a lone forward.
The visitors survived several scares even before the opening goal. Zola had been forced out wide but he still managed to drill a shot of such power and precision inside the near post that the goalkeeper Tommy Wright could only fumble it into the net.
The Irish did not collapse, and Quinn had a shot well saved by Gianluca Pagliuca early in the second half. Most of the action, though, was at the other end as the Italians pressed hard for further goals, but the Irish defence until two minutes from time, when Alessandro Del Piero, the Juventus forward who had started the game on the bench alongside Fabrizio Ravanelli, curled in a superb free-kick from the left flank.
"You had to be impressed with the Italians' patience," Hoddle said. "They didn't get frustrated and they didn't get flustered. There is no doubt that in the first 15 minutes, with Zola at his best, they looked at their best."
Maldini, who modified Italy's usual defensive formation by using Ciro Ferrara as a sweeper, said: "Against England everything will be more difficult. We will have to be more careful. The fans will have to be patient."
ITALY: Peruzzi (Juventus); Ferrara (Juventus), Maldini (Milan), Costacurta (Milan), Di Livio (Juventus), Carboni (Roma), D Baggio (Parma), Albertini (Milan), Di Matteo (Chelsea), Zola (Chelsea), Casiraghi (Lazio). Substitutes: Cannavaro (Parma) for Costacurta, 71; Fresi (Internazionale); Fuser (Lazio) for Di Matteo, 57; Eranio (Milan) for Di Livio, 78; Del Piero (Juventus) for Zola, 62; Ravanelli (Middlesbrough) for Casiraghi, 57.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Wright (Nottingham Forest); Griffin (St Johnstone), Taggart (Bolton), Hunter (Reading), Worthington (Stoke), Morrow (Arsenal), McCarthy (Port Vale), Lomas (Manchester City), Horlock (Swindon), Hughes (West Ham), Quinn (Blackpool). Substitutes: O'Boyle (St Johnstone) for Quinn, 59; Rowland (West Ham) for Hughes, 69; Dennison (Wolves) for McCarthy, 81.
Referee: L Frohlich (Germany).
n Terry Venables maintained his 100 per cent record as the new coach of Australia when his side beat South Korea 2-1 in Brisbane yesterday.Reuse content