Football / World Cup USA '94: Italy's doubts cast off by the Baggios: World Cup semi-finals: Sacchi determined not to fall into Bulgaria's trap while Brazil are under 'unbelievable pressure' against Sweden

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AND now, following Argentina and Germany, will Bulgaria's next trick be the beating of a third world champion? To their collection of big-name scalps, which has thrilled everyone who celebrates with the underdog but not the organisers of this World Cup, they have only to add Italy today in the Giants Stadium and a place in the final will be theirs.

The problem is that having been forewarned, Italy will undoubtedly be forearmed. The unknowns of Bulgaria are now a known quantity and with the focus elsewhere this week the Italians have been quietly working on ways to avoid the trap that Germany so sensationally fell into.

'Germany and Italy are similar in that they are countries with a great football tradition,' said the Italy coach, Arrigo Sacchi. 'The mistake Germany made was perhaps psychological. I read before the game that a German player said he would rather have met us in the final than the semis. You can't think like that when you are only at the quarter-final stage. We've seen in this World Cup that as soon as a team think they have a match won they are punished.'

The coach has survived a difficult month to arrive at a position of strength: two more victories will see his country claim a record fourth World Cup. The poison pens are nowhere near so apparent as the critics are forced to concede that, whether by luck or judgement, Sacchi has got it just about right.

The case of the Baggios, Roberto and the other one, the lesser-known Dino, emphasises the point. Sacchi had been encouraged to dispense with the two great friends, chose to ignore the advice and has been amply repaid as they have contributed five of the side's six goals.

Roberto has proved Italy's 11th-hour saviour, stroking home an equaliser against Nigeria and then the extra-time winner from the penalty spot. Against Spain, he again left it late before squeezing a remarkable shot through a needle's eye to set up their semi-final. The opening goal against Spain came thundering in from Dino. He also claimed the winner against Norway, when Italy were reduced to 10 men.

'Everybody has always said that I'm the 'other' Baggio, the wrong Baggio,' Dino said. 'But in this World Cup I'm showing that I have a first and last name.'

Roberto was criticised by all and sundry after his early lack-lustre displays. Gianni Agnelli, the wisecracking owner of his Turin club, Juventus, said he looked at first like a 'drenched rabbit'. Whether rabbit or duck, Baggio insists the criticism is all water off his back.

'I'm the same player of one week ago when I had not yet scored three goals,' he said. 'I have only overcome some psychological problems. Agnelli's remark was not a problem. It did not wake me up because I have never been asleep during this World Cup.'

Sacchi has been forced to make changes again following the eight- match ban imposed by football's world governing body, Fifa, on Mauro Tassotti for his assault with his elbow on Spain's Luis Enrique in Saturday's quarter-final. Tassotti is replaced by Roberto Mussi. Nicola Berti comes in for Antonio Conte on the right of midfield while Pierluigi Casiraghi takes over from Daniele Massaro in attack.

The coach is banking on their famed pressing game preventing the Bulgarian midfield from winning the space that Germany allowed them on Sunday. 'They are hard to play against as they swap positions a lot,' Sacchi said. 'You must avoid getting caught with four defenders marking one attacker and the rest of the Bulgarian team enjoying space in midfield.'

Bulgaria's unexpected success has created problems for the organisers. Because of them, the World Cup began without France and has since shed Mexico and Germany, three teams with big followings, which translates into many dollars' worth of interest.

Then there was the problem of finding Bulgarian translators. Not reckoning on them getting this far, the World Cup language service had to put in an emergency call to Columbia University in New York, which produced three Bulgarian students willing to give up their time. They do not receive so much as a souvenir T-shirt for their trouble.

ITALY (4-4-2): Pagliuca (Sampdoria); Mussi (Torino), Costacurta, Maldini (both Milan), Benarrivo (Parma); Berti (Internazionale), Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Parma), Donadoni (Milan); Casiraghi (Lazio), R Baggio (Juventus).

Comments