Football: Italy full of pride and passion

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The Independent Online
Italy was a place full of pride yesterday - the day after their football team's 1-0 win over England in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

"Historic victory at Wembley," declared the Tuttosport daily newspaper. "Now we are the lions." Its headline "Zola genio, Italia si" needed no translating. Gianfranco Zola, the diminutive Sardinian who scored Italy's winner and who is all too familiar to English fans as a Chelsea striker, was the toast of the nation.

"It's Zola, it's Italy," said the Gazzetta dello Sport, above a picture of the jubilant player twisting away from goal with a finger raised. "Wembley is ours."

The hard-fought win made Italy the first team to beat England at home in a World Cup qualifier. Most Italians assumed a place in the 1998 finals was now assured.

The new coach, Cesare Maldini, received many tributes. "A victory Italian style," said Tuttosport. "Cesare Maldini, 24 years after Ferruccio Valcareggi, leads an Italian team in taking Wembley by storm." Italy have beaten England may times in the past but the only previous occasion they have done so in England was in November 1973, when they again won 1-0 at Wembley. That team was coached by Valcareggi, and the goal scored by Fabio Capello, now Real Madrid's coach.

Wednesday's win seemed to have released years of pent-up frustration among Italian fans.

"It was an heroic undertaking," said Luciano Nizzola, the newly-appointed head of the Italian football federation and the man who gave Maldini his job late last year.

After years of stinging criticism and lacklustre performances under Arrigo Sacchi, the cautious coach who led Italy to the 1994 World Cup final and yet whose team rarely produced entertaining football, the performance at Wembley proved cathartic.

The players were the same but a new spirit was detected in their performance. "It is as if the new national team, regaining its old memory, had wiped out in just 90 minutes all of the most recent displays under Sacchi," Tuttosport said.

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