Football / World Cup USA '94: Baggio pounces to send Italy through: World Cup quarter-final: Striker's thrilling late goal breaks the Spanish resistance as history threatens to repeat itself

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Spain. . . . . . . . . . .1

Caminero 59

Italy. . . . . . . . . . .2

D Baggio 26, R Baggio 88

Attendance: 53,644

AS USUAL, Italy are doing it the hard way: which means that history may be beckoning this curiously unconvincing bunch. Just as Paolo Rossi did in 1982, so Roberto Baggio is emerging from an inauspicious beginning to carry his team through the later stages of the World Cup.

A brilliant goal by the Juventus player with three minutes left cost Spain a first semi-final place in their history, after they had looked the better side for most of an increasingly tumultuous second half. Just as they did at the same stage back in 1934, Italy removed the Spaniards by an aggregate of 2-1 although 60 years ago it took extra time and a replay to reach a result.

Yesterday's game looked likely to be prolonged too until the 87th minute when Baggio, who scored both Italy's goals against Nigeria last Tuesday, shook his pony-tail and reshaped the match. When Nicola Berti lobbed a gentle pass into the path of his fellow substitute Giuseppe Signori just inside the Spanish half, Signori spotted Baggio's run into the inside-right channel, lifted the ball through, and then watched as Baggio ran wide before slipping the ball home from an acute angle, clearing the boot of Abelardo, the Spanish stopper, by perhaps an inch.

On that margin, and on an absurd point-blank miss by the Spanish forward Julio Salinas five minutes earlier, Spain's fate swung.

A muggy, misty day in Boston's Foxboro Stadium provided conditions more familiar to the six players from Milan than to the half-dozen from Barcelona who faced each other in what was almost a replay of May's European Cup final, won 4-0 by the Italian club. One positional switch by the Italian coach, surely made with that game in mind turned out to be the significant factor of the first half.

The right-footed Roberto Donadoni was switched to the left wing, the position in which he tormented Barcelona's defence in Athens. Now, lining up against the same full-back, Donadoni was to repeat the damage.

It may have been Arrigo Sacchi's first astute move of the whole tournament. 'They're a team who know how to suffer,' the Spanish forward Jose Maria Bakero had said of Italy before yesterday's match. Certainly they have stumbled through their early games, relying on grit rather than strategy.

Sacchi's four-year reign has been marked by vacillation. Still unable to decide whether he wants a target man accompanied by a shadow-striker or a group of small, mobile forwards playing a short-passing game, yesterday he dropped Signori, Serie A's leading scorer for the past two seasons, replacing him with a midfielder, Juventus's Antonio Conte.

In defence Mauro Tassotti came in for the injured Roberto Mussi, while Sacchi brought back his first-choice goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca, after a two-match suspension.

For Spain, Javier Clemente brought Jose Luis Caminero into the midfield for Fernando Hierro, and replaced Francisco Camarasa with Jorge Otero at left-back. Otherwise he opted to start with the flexible attack that had served him well against the Swiss, with Luis Enrique as its pivot.

This game, however, was always going to be a much tougher proposition. Spain were soon moving forward in pretty combinations, while Italy quietly looked for the quick counter. But it was a patient build-up by the Italians which gave them the lead in the 26th minute.

Massaro held the ball up in midfield, exploring the options before transferring it sideways to Dino Baggio. Out it went to Donadoni on the left wing, who first confronted his old adversary Albert Ferrer before checking back and returning the ball inside to Dino Baggio. Back went the tall midfielder's right foot, and a 30-yard shot flew across Andoni Zubizarreta's dive.

Signori returned to the side at the beginning of the second half, replacing Demetrio Albertini and taking a position on the left wing, Donadoni moving inside to partner Dino Baggio in central midfield. Despite the extra attacker, the Italians seemed even more inclined to sit back and let Spain come at them, probably aware that whereas Spain had enjoyed a full week of recuperation after their comfortable win against Switzerland, only four days had passed since their own gruelling extra-time victory over Nigeria.

But a rare mistake by Alessandro Costacurta put Spain back in the game in the 59th minute. When the Milan centre-back trod on the ball near the corner flag, Sergi took advantage. Although Otero missed his shot from the quick cross, Caminero came in with a 10-yard drive which deflected off Antonio Benarrivo past the helpless Pagliuca.

Clemente showed his attacking intentions by calling off Sergi and sending on Julio Salinas to provide a conventional leader of the forward line. Four minutes later Bakero was replaced by Hierro, while Nicola Berti came on for Italy, at Conte's expense. For a while the changes disrupted both sides, but Spain were showing renewed promise when Julio Salinas spurned a marvellous chance to win the game with eight minutes to go.

Having worked hard to drift into the clear between Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, he clumsily dribbled a shot against Pagliuca's legs from a few feet out. But then came Roberto Baggio, and the end of Spain. Maybe Sacchi, after all, is the heir to Enzo Bearzot's luck. His team may look a thing of shreds and patches, but it would take some courage to bet against them now.

ITALY: (4-4-2): Pagliuca (Sampdoria); Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta (all Milan), Benarrivo (Parma); Donadoni, Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Parma), Conte (Juventus); Massaro (Milan), R Baggio (Juventus). Substitutes: Signori (Lazio) for Albertini, h-t; Berti (Internazionale) for Conte, 65.

SPAIN: (1-3-5-1): Zubizarreta (Valencia); Nadal (Barcelona); Ferrer (Barcelona), Abelardo (Sporting Gijon), Otero (Valencia); Goicoechea (Barcelona), Caminero (Atletico Madrid), Bakero (Barcelona), Alkorta (Real Madrid), Sergi (Barcelona); Luis Enrique (Real Madrid). Substitutes: Salinas (Deportivo La Coruna) for Sergi, 60; Hierro (Real Madrid) for Bakero, 64.

Referee: S Puhl (Hungary).