Football: World Cup - Baggio has the finishing touch for Italians

Italy 2 Vieri 49, R Baggio 89 Austria 1 Herzog pen 90 Att: 75,000
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The Independent Online
THIS HAD the look of a soporific game before the kick-off and the pessimists were not disappointed. Italy controlled the game throughout - with Luigi Di Biagio tireless in midfield - but they have still to play a fully convincing 90 minutes in France 98.

Do they have enough in reserve to outrun or outwit the likes of Brazil or Argentina or even France, their possibly quarter-final opponents? They do not have to show their full hand yet. The win was enough to give Italy the championship of Group B and a last-16 match in Marseilles on Saturday against Scotland, Norway or Morocco.

The game began in permanent slow motion with few passages worth replaying. Was there a ball on the pitch? It hardly mattered. Mexican waves are usually a tedious distraction. In the first 20 minutes of this match, the wave which made lazy circuits of the beautiful, sunlit Stade de France, was the only entertainment on offer.

Italy wanted Austria to come out and play; Austria insisted that the Italians must come round to their house. Stalemate. Mysteriously, with dozens of millions of pounds of midfield talent on the bench - Albertini, Di Matteo, Di Livio - Cesare Maldini chose to play an extra defender, Gianluca Pessotto, in midfield. Up front Alessandro Del Piero looked wily and pacey when he had the chance but was regularly clattered by Heimo Pfeifenberger, Paul Durkin, the English referee, gave him little protection.

After 25 minutes or so, both sides seemed to get bored at once. When Ivica Vastic put Dietmar Kuhbauer through on the right, he was pushed over by Fabio Cannavaro just outside the area, but Durkin ruled that there was no foul.

Pessotto playing well forward, despite his usual defensive role for Juventus, scurried down the left and thumped a low centre across the goal. It was met on the half-volley by Francesco Moriero but the ball skidded wide of the far upright.

In the last minute of the half, Austria - last-minute specialists in their two previous 1-1 draws in Group B - almost surprised themselves by taking the lead. Vastic cut in from the left, but Anton Polster could not control his cross and Pessotto cleared. The teams went off to boos from the large number of uncommitted spectators, the truth is that this World Cup has spoiled us all: there have been few matches like this.

The half-time score from Nantes may have alarmed the Italians. With Chile leading Cameroon 1-0 it only needed two more Chilean goals to dump Italy in to a last 16 game against Brazil.

For whatever reason, the Italians came out looking for a goal and got one. Peter Schottel fouled the much-fouled Del Piero on the left; the Juventus striker took the free-kick himself, scooping the ball high over an Austrian defence which unaccountably forgot about the other striker, Christian Vieri. From point-blank range, he headed the ball almost vertically down and into the net.

Would we have a game at last? It turned out that the Austrians could play well enough when they had to. A cross from Pfeifenberger was played back by Vastic and fired just wide by Hannes Reinmayr. Excitement in deed.

The Austrians pressed forward, leaving gaps at last which the elder Maldini decided to explore with fresher legs. He brought off first Vieri and then Del Piero to make way for Filippo Inzaghi and Roberto Baggio.

The game reached the dying minutes - time for an Austrian goal? It was, from a penalty by the substitute, Andreas Herzog, in injury time, but the Italians had already spoiled the script by scoring a second a minute earlier. Inzaghi escaped on the right and centred low to Roberto Baggio who tapped in.

Six minutes from time a spectator had tried to invade the pitch. It was difficult to see why he bothered, was he overcome by excitement? Or did he want his money back.

ITALY (3-5-2): Pagliuca (Internazionale); Nesta (Lazio), Costacurta (Milan), Cannavaro (Parma); Moriero (Internazionale), D Baggio (Parma), Di Biagio (Roma), Pessotto (Juventus), Maldini (Milan); Vieri (Atletico Madrid), Del Piero (Juventus). Substitutes: Bergomi (Internazionale) for Nesta, 4; Inzaghi (Juventus) for Vieri, 60; R Baggio (Bologna) for Del Piero, 72.

AUSTRIA (3-5-1-1): Konsel (Roma); Pfeffer (Austria Vienna), Feiersinger (Borussia Dortmund), Schottel (Rapid Vienna); Reinmayr (Sturm Graz), Kuhbauer (Real Sociedad), Mahlich (Sturm Graz), Pfeifenberger (Werder Bremen), Wetl (Rapid Vienna); Vastic (Sturm Graz); Polster (Cologne). Substitutes: Haas (Sturm Graz) for Polster, 62; Stoger (Linz ASK) for Kuhbauer, 74 ; Herzog (Werder Bremen) for Pfeifenberger, 79.

Referee: P Durkin (England).