Marcello Lippi embraced Smith with a huge smile. The Scotland manager had a grimace. However, his team are still in with a chance of snatching second place in Group Five and going to the play-offs. Four points was always the target from the testing double-header of Italy and Norway, and the Scots now go to Oslo on Wednesday. Sadly for them, Norway's 90th minute winner against Slovenia last night puts them into clear second place, five points ahead of Scotland.
"Italy are the best team in the group and no one could argue that they did not deserve a draw, but neither could anyone claim we did not deserve to win," said Smith.
"We tried many ways to attack and we were very surprised by Kenny Miller who played very well. Our defence tried to stop him in any way possible," admitted Lippi.
The warm sunshine that had bathed Glasgow all day had an Italian feel to it, and those conditions had not dissipated by the early evening kick-off. Indeed, inside the stadium, the rising temperature had more to do with passion, as the Hampden crowd erupted as fireworks rose to greet the arrival of the teams.
The message from Smith would have been not to give Italy any early hint of their superiority, and the visitors had the chance to score with their first attack as Francesco Totti whipped a free-kick to the back post that was met by Cristian Zaccardo, but the full-back's volley was beaten away by Craig Gordon. Andy Webster was soon given a lesson in why you cannot get too close to a man of the quality of Christian Vieri, floundering in the striker's wake as Vieri's turn allowed him to advance and unleash a shot that Gordon gathered safely.
However, it was Scotland who inflicted the shock upon their illustrious opponents after 12 minutes. It was a goal of beauty, which if it had been scored by the Azzurri instead of those of a dark-blue hue would have been claimed as a natural product of Calcio class.
Scotland showed patience and precision as they threaded passes and switched the play from left to right, where Graham Alexander found Darren Fletcher, who then supplied Paul Hartley on the touchline. The Hearts playmaker delivered a perfect cross that was met by Miller's well-timed run, getting in front of Zaccardo to plan an angled header past Angelo Peruzzi.
Hampden's decibel level soared as high as the spirits of Smith's team and Italy took some time to regain their equilibrium. Hartley symbolised the Scots' mood. His driving runs and deft touches belied a man making only his fourth appearance.
Italy's frustration became visible as Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele de Rossi were booked for scything challenges. When Lippi's side squandered a chance nine minutes before the interval, as Vincenzo Iaquinta headed Andrea Pirlo's cross over an upset seemed possible. In the 44th minute Fletcher threatened to double Scotland's advantage, slipping between Cannavaro and de Rossi to burst into the box but Rino Gattuso rescued Italy's with a sliding tackle.
Italy's bruised pride prompted a furious response in the second half. Scotland never got a touch for the opening 10 minutes as Lippi's team exerted suffocating pressure. However, Gordon was composed at the heart of the storm. The young goalkeeper displayed fine reading to cut out Iaquenta's cross, which was deflected off Webster's knee, and even when Totti and Iaquinta carved Scotland open with a sublime exchange, Gordon had the measure of the situation.
The Scots, though, required a huge slice of fortune just after the hour when Alexander gifted possession to Totti outside the box, allowing the Roma player to pick out the run of Vieri arriving on the far side. From six yards, the striker stabbed his shot over the bar like a novice.
The pressure finally told 15 minutes from the end when Grosso restored parity. Pirlo's corner inadvertently came off the head of Fletcher and although Gordon reacted superbly to parry the ball out, Grosso seized on the loose ball and volleyed it into the roof of the net.
In the end, the importance of the result as a sign of Scottish improvement was highlighted by their captain Barry Ferguson. "We worked our socks off and it has taken a lot out of us," he said. "You can see how much we want to win under Walter. A year ago, you would never have thought this would happen."Reuse content