Football World Cup: Italians hail new heroes

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The Independent Online
ITALY'S PROLIFIC striker, Christian Vieri, and their goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca, were the players being heralded as heroes in Italy yesterday.

Vieri, who scored Italy's winner in Marseilles against Norway took his tally to five in France 98 so far, and said he did his job against the Norwegians.

He added he was not obsessed by the idea of scoring other goals in the next matches, or clinching the title of top World Cup striker.

"The less you think of scoring the more you put the ball into the net. In any case what really counts is to keep on winning. I think Italy can go a long way into the tournament," Vieri said.

Pagliuca, the Internazionale keeper who preserved Italy's lead with a sensational save of a short-range header by Tore Andre Flo, said he was lucky to stop the ball just on the line.

"I stopped it by instinct. On a wet field the ball could have slipped into the goal," Pagliuca said.

Italian players unusually met reporters in the castle-hotel where they live - usually banned to the media - before taking a half-day off. Preparation for Friday's quarter-final against France begins at Italy's training camp at Senlis today.

Not everyone was impressed by the Azzurri's win. The Norway coach, Egil Olsen, said: "We met a bad Italian team." He added: "I am bitter about that match, it was a bad match. We had some chances and we could have scored.

"I'm not very impressed by Italy. It was more because we didn't play well that we lost."

Olsen's criticism cut little ice with the Italians. "What makes me laugh is that they were losing 1-0, they had 10 men behind the ball and they expected us to come forward," said the captain, Paolo Maldini.

"We're not as stupid as the other teams they played," he added, perhaps having a little dig at the Brazilians following their 2-1 defeat by Norway in the first round.

The Centre-back Fabio Cannavaro, who had the better of a tremendous battle with the towering Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo, was equally unmoved.

"Their coach might be disappointed in us but the fact is we beat his side," he said. "We're used to playing under these conditions, with people criticising us, but it doesn't bother us."

Alessandro Del Piero, meanwhile, who is yet to score a goal in France and missed at least three scoring chances before being substituted after 77 minutes, recieved the support of his coach and team mates.

"I think that he has kept it in reserve for the next game," said coach Maldini. "I am happy with Alessandro," he added. "I am happy with the way we played yesterday. We took no risks." Roberto Baggio, who stayed on the bench on Saturday, also lent his support to Del Piero.

"He's in the same position I against Nigeria," he said. "He needs a goal to unblock himself."

Baggio did not score in the USA 94 until the fourth game of the tournament. He then hit two against Nigeria, followed with another against Spain and then put two more past Bulgaria.

Italy reached the final where they lost to Brazil. Baggio, after doing so much, missed in the penalty shoot-out. Baggio has already scored in France 98, while Christian Vieri has scored five goals in four matches, to make him the highest scorer so far.