Denmark's dynamism frustrates Italian art

Denmark 0 Italy 0
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The Independent Online

Goalless, yet nowhere near as guileless as Switzerland and Croatia in their barren stalemate 24 hours earlier, Denmark and Italy opened Group C with a draw that owed much to the saving grace of the respective goalkeepers.

Goalless, yet nowhere near as guileless as Switzerland and Croatia in their barren stalemate 24 hours earlier, Denmark and Italy opened Group C with a draw that owed much to the saving grace of the respective goalkeepers.

Thomas Sorensen earned his previous club, Sunderland, barely one 12th of the £23m fee Gianluigi Buffon commanded on leaving Parma for Juventus. But the Aston Villa custodian matched his Italian counterpart for agility and authority, deservedly taking the man-of-the-match award that neutrals might have expected Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero to win.

In the event, Totti flickered fitfully, drawing one magnificent block from Sorensen, but a last-minute booking for a nasty late challenge on Rene Henriksen spoke volumes for his frustration. Del Piero also suffered at the hands of the keeper but was soon substituted as Italy laboured to justify their status as one of the tournament favourites.

Italy lost to France in the final of Euro 2000 and went out to South Korea in the ensuing World Cup. Their coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, is under pressure to live up to the country's self-image as a global power and seemed annoyed afterwards that some of the Italian media appeared dissatisfied.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with us, mentally or physically," said the weary-looking 65-year-old, adding enigmatically: "We were trying to paint a picture with a new set of brushes."

While no such expectations or pretensions burden Denmark, the 1992 champions demonstrated why they have lost only twice in 23 competitive fixtures under Morten Olsen. Sorensen, reminded that one of those was against England at the 2002 World Cup, said: "That's behind us now. We've shown we can do well against the big teams and we've beaten England at Old Trafford. We played a good side today, but it didn't surprise us that we did well."

On a baking afternoon, a vociferous Danish contingent created the atmosphere of a carnival in a medieval city that must have seen a few. In what was surely a tournament first, they took their lead from a tuba played by a fan in a red Viking helmet. Italy's followers were outnumbered and out-sung, which may have contributed, psychologically, to their cautious start.

Denmark certainly enjoyed the better first half. Although the teams were set out in ostensibly identical fashion, they spread the play wide to greater effect. Dennis Rommedahl and Martin Jorgensen, natural wingers, offered a dimension Italy lacked. Moreover, Jon Dahl Tomasson was more influential than Totti.

The Roma schemer, of whom so much is expected after he self-combusted in the Far East two years ago, struggled to impose his skills. It took him 12 minutes to show and even then it was from a free-kick, clawed aside by Sorensen.

Denmark, by contrast, flourished from open play. Early on, Jorgensen played in the overlapping Niclas Jensen, whose cut-back was intercepted by Christian Panucci at full stretch as Tomasson hovered. Jorgensen also forced a sprawling save from Buffon on half-time, moments after Italy's best attack.

Panucci pumped the ball into a congested area around the penalty spot, whereupon Alessandro Del Piero at last announced his presence with a shot aimed at the spot just inside the right-hand upright. Sorensen sprung to parry the ball, but only as far as Totti.

Resembling a braided version of the Divine Ponytail, aka Roberto Baggio, he swivelled cleverly to switch the ball to his right foot before powering it goalwards. Although moving to his left, Sorensen still had the power in his right wrist to swat away the shot as if it were a persistent mosquito.

The heat took its toll on Denmark's pressing game, but a judicious use of substitutes meant they never wilted. Gianluca Zambrotta fired wide after Totti again sparked briefly, while Sorensen tipped over a header by Christian Vieri from Zambrotta's cross.

Italy did not, however, take control and Denmark could well have taken full points following a 75th-minute break-out. Buffon, not to be outdone by Sorensen, made a flying stop to deny Tomasson. Rommedahl drilled the loose ball across the six-yard box without friend or foe applying a touch. The tuba man played a lament; equally, it may have been a celebration.

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