PERHAPS WE expect too much from the likes of Wales these days, even if Neville Southall, a man who should recognise quality when he sees it, reckons they are "as good as anything else in Europe - when they perform". The lack of performance here was all too apparent and, though the scoreline may not have been on a par with their 7-1 thrashing by the Netherlands three years ago, the gulf in class was much the same.
A return to the Low Countries for the climax of Euro 2000 next year is unlikely and, on this evidence, perhaps a mercy if they do not. Southall, who built his reputation on stopping goals, reckons that his first requirement as caretaker manager is to get Wales scoring goals. His assistant, Mark Hughes, ought to be of some assistance in that direction, but it was Wales's defensive shortcomings which had one wincing on their behalf as Italy toyed with them like a cat with a mouse.
As the outgoing manager, Bobby Gould, was fond of remarking in the build- up to this game: "There are a few more bloody noses to be effected in this group." Yes, and none more bloody than Wales's.
It should be of some consolation to the Welsh that, in the wake of the Laudrup brothers' retirement from international football, Denmark have no strikers of the quality of Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi. The Italian duo cut Wales to ribbons with their intelligent running and inter- play. "And we thought that Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were pretty good at that," said the goalkeeper Paul Jones, one of Wales's few successes, with a shake of his head.
Wales made the mistake of attempting to man-mark the two strikers, who are used to pulling around rather better defenders than Wales could put against them. In the absence of the injured Chris Coleman, Wales were obliged to play an experimental trio at centre back.
An early opening goal was never more likely, and Vieri provided it with a downward header from Diego Fuser's corner. It was surprising it took the Group One leaders over half an hour to underline their superiority with another goal. Before the interval, though, Inzaghi added a second after cutting inside a stumbling Andy Melville, and Paolo Maldini a cool third.
Dean Saunders was substituted at half-time in favour of John Hartson, and the second half developed into a lop-sided contest between Italy and Jones in goal. The Southampton man held his own until injury time, when the substitute Enrico Chiesa beat him from 30 yards.
Goals: Vieri (6) 1-0; Inzaghi (37) 2-0; Maldini (40) 3-0; Chiesa (90) 4-0.
ITALY (4-4-2): Buffon (Parma); Panucci (Real Madrid), Cannavaro (Parma), Negro (Lazio), Maldini (Milan); Conte (Juventus), Fuser (Parma), Albertini (Milan), Di Francesco (Roma); Inzaghi (Juventus), Vieri (Lazio). Substitutes: Montella (Sampdoria) for Vieri, h-t; Di Livio (Juventus) for Fuser, 69; Chiesa (Parma) for Inzaghi, 89.
WALES (3-5-2): Jones (Southampton), Melville (Fulham), Williams (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Page (Watford); Robinson (Charlton Athletic), Bellamy (Norwich City), Hughes (Southampton), Speed (Newcastle United), Barnard (Barnsley); Saunders (Benfica), Giggs (Manchester Utd). Substitutes: Hartson (Wimbledon) for Saunders, h-t; Jenkins (Huddersfield) for Robinson, 75; Pembridge (Benfica) for Bellamy, 77.
Referee: E Steinborn (Germany).
Man of the match: Inzaghi.
Attendance: 12,392.Reuse content