Football / World Cup USA '94: Time for Baggio to make an impression: Group E: Juventus' serious-minded playmaker under pressure to lift Italian spirits

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ROBERTO BAGGIO has made a big impression on Madonna, who describes him as one of the 'cutest' players here. Others remain more interested in his ability on the football field and are insisting he performs better against Norway today if Italy's World Cup is not to end prematurely.

Although the enigmatic Baggio posed the greatest threat to Ireland on Saturday before his influence waned after half-time, he came in for harsh criticism from the Italian media who complained he was only playing for himself.

Baggio has been a withdrawn figure at the squad's hotel in New York this week, the psychological pain of defeat made worse by an Achilles tendon injury which has left him sore but determined to face the Norwegians.

A practising Buddhist, the Juventus player will want to do better at the Giants Stadium, New Jersey, against a second North European opponent who will press and pester the classy Azzurri out of their cultured stride. About the injury Baggio said: 'The pitch was so hard on Saturday and it always causes me pain when I put on boots for training and for games. The only thing to do is play through the pain. These next two games are too important to miss.'

The Italian coach, Arrigo Sacchi, has picked 25 different teams for his 25 matches in charge and will change again. Alberigo Evani, withdrawn at half-time against Ireland, has a pulled calf muscle and is unlikely to play any further part in the tournament. Giuseppe Signori's hamstring strain has responded to treatment while the Parma right-back, Antonio Benarrivo, will replace Mauro Tassotti.

Norway took three points out of four from Italy in the 1992 European championship qualifiers and a surprise defeat in Oslo effectively cost Azeglio Vicini his job. Another reverse and it is assumed his successor will go the same way.

Once more the man under pressure has heaped praise on the opposition, describing them as quicker, more aggressive and tactically superior to Jack Charlton's squad.

'Norway's recent results show they are a better team than Ireland,' Sacchi said. 'They put you under a lot of pressure, they run hard and they are very strong in the air. We have to rebuild our morale and we have little time to do it. We must avoid elimination at all costs.'

The other changes to the side are the reintroduction of a more orthodox centre-forward, Pierluigi Casiraghi, in an effort to help Baggio who has not scored for eight games. Casiraghi's inclusion means Signori will start wide on the left, while Nicola Berti replaces Roberto Donadoni to give the midfield a more solid look.

The contest appears ideally set up for Norway, who have the benefit of a three-point advantage having beaten Mexico. Their coach, Egil Olsen, had few worries but is still to decide whether to accommodate Kjetil Rekdal, the substitute who scored the late winner in Washington. 'The Italian style suits us perfectly,' commented their captain, Rune Bratseth. 'They play possession football and that's what we like to come up against. We always go looking for a win but yes I think - I hope - one point should put us through to the second round.'

ITALY: Pagliuca (Sampdoria); Benarrivo (Parma), Costacurta (Milan), Baresi (Milan), Maldini (Milan), Berti (Internazionale), Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Juventus), Casiraghi (Lazio), R Baggio (Juventus), Signori (Lazio).

NORWAY (probable): Thorstvedt (Tottenham); Berg (Blackburn), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Bjornebye (Rosenborg Trondheim), Haland (Nottingham Forest), Bohinen (Nottingham Forest), Mykland (Start), Leonhardsen (Rosenborg Trondheim), Jakobsen (Young Boys Berne), Flo (Sheffield United), Fjortoft (Swindon Town).