Trapattoni in fear of the Scandinavian job

Italy v Bulgaria: Cautious approach against Swedes could prove costly for manager as Italians' fate is out of their hands
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The Independent Football

"We have played a great game - we spat blood during this match," said a disappointed Gianluigi Buffon, Italy's goalkeeper, after their bid to get back on track in Euro 2004 against Sweden.

"We have played a great game - we spat blood during this match," said a disappointed Gianluigi Buffon, Italy's goalkeeper, after their bid to get back on track in Euro 2004 against Sweden.

The Italians showed a sense of urgency from the start, hitting the Swedes in attacking waves before Antonio Cassano headed in Christian Panucci's cross before half-time. Giovanni Trapattoni's men dominated after the break, too, but never added to their tally before Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his unlikely equaliser.

Even if Italy win their last game against Bulgaria, Sweden and Denmark could guarantee passage with a high-scoring draw, at least 2-2, when they meet. But Trapattoni is not considering that possibility: "I'm not calculating," he said. "We have to win our game and hope the others are not doing their calculations."

Midfielder Gennaro Gattuso was one of many Italians urging the Scandinavian teams to play to a win - and hinting at possible collusion. "We are always being taught lessons about fair play so I hope they will demonstrate what they talk about," he said.

He also defended Italy: "You can't start having a go at us after a game like that," he told reporters, "We had seven or eight chances in that game and then they went and equalised with a goal like that. We were on top for 80 minutes - so it was bad luck. But the way we played for a large part is exactly how Italian football should be played."

Alessandro Nesta, who was excellent at the heart of Italy's defence, underlined his side's failings: "We played some excellent football, but then we dropped off too deep and allowed them to put us under pressure. We gave away a stupid goal and it was gutting. It was a real blow to concede a goal like that. But we have to do our work and just hope that they will be fair in the other game."

Trapattoni is facing the serious danger of an early exit. "It's difficult to find any positives now," he said. "We have to find a way to repeat the best things about our performance [against Sweden] and hope the other sides play their games." The coach was accused of being too defensive-minded at the 2002 World Cup when Italy made an early exit, but he got his tactics right on Friday by attacking the Swedes down both wings, with Christian Panucci and Gianluca Zambrotta delivering cross after cross into the box, only for the striker Christian Vieri to miss the target repeatedly.

"Il Trap" then made a tactical change, taking off Cassano and replacing him with the midfielder Stefano Fiore instead of bringing on a striker. He subsequently took off another striker, the versatile Alessandro del Piero, to bring on the midfielder Mauro Camoranesi. Ibrahimovic scored three minutes later.

"I had to intervene because some players had given an awful lot and were tired," Trapattoni said. He did not have to explain his decision to be cautious instead of going for a game-killing second goal.

"In the first half, Italy [played] the best game of the European Championships so far," he said. "Even Holland against Germany, France against Croatia, one team dominated the first half and the other teams dominated the second."

Buffon believes Italy will defeat a hapless Bulgaria, just as Sweden and Denmark have, and he expects a favourable outcome in the other contest. "I think it is very difficult that Sweden and Denmark will draw 2-2 - a result which would knock Italy out of the tournament. We still remain in contention for a quarter-final place," he said.

Trapattoni will be counting on his goalscorer, Cassano, to score again against the Bulgarians, with Totti suspended for two more games after being banned for three matches for spitting in the face of Denmark's Christian Poulsen.