Italy frustrated by Georgians

Georgia 0 Italy 0
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The Independent Online
Italy's goalless draw here last night means they will have to beat England in Rome next month if they are to qualify automatically for the World Cup finals.

The Georgians, proving to be something of a bogey team for Italy who only scraped a 1-0 win at home last October, at times had the better of an evenly-matched European Group Two contest with few scoring chances.

A low powerful strike by the substitute Filippo Inzaghi in the last minute was not quite enough to beat Nika Togonidze in the Georgian goal, after Cesare Maldini had replaced Gianfranco Zola and the rest of his forward line in a desperate hunt for a late goal. But the Italian coach will have flown home knowing Italy must shake off a lot of early-season rust to be sure of qualifying for France.

Roberto Baggio, a second-half substitute, said afterwards: "We did everything we could to score but obviously we found it very hard. But a 0-0 draw here in Georgia is no big drama. It's a difficult place to win. We're just going to give everything against England next month."

Italy will be without Roberto di Matteo for the decisive final qualifier on 11 October after he had a second yellow card to earn a one-match suspension.

The Georgians had the better of a first half in which neither side were prepared to commit themselves fully. In a hectic period before the break, only a flying Fabio Cannavaro tackle robbed the Ajax striker Shota Arveladze in front of goal from Levan Kobiashvili's cross.

Arveladze's brother and strike partner Archil, who also plays in the Dutch League for Breda, saw his snap shot from 25 metres turned over the bar by Angelo Peruzzi, who was well off his line when he stopped Newcastle's Temur Ketsbaia, unmarked a minute before half-time.

Had the Georgians been prepared to move up in numbers, they could have gone in for the break a goal up. In the second half, an Arveladze brothers one-two took the Georgians the length of the field, only for Shota to be dispossessed in the box.

Zola's strike partner, Christian Vieri, was replaced by Pierluigi Casiraghi half-way through the second half but the Lazio striker fared little better. Roberto Baggio made his international comeback, coming on for Attilio Lombardo after 71 minutes, and Inzaghi took over from Zola five minutes later. But none could find the target despite pushing forward in numbers in the final minutes.

Angelo Di Livio had come closest for Italy. His lob across the face of the goal nearly caught Togonidze out at the far post but he was able to push it away and gather Lombardo's follow-up at close range. Dino Baggio also tested the Georgian keeper with two long-distance efforts in the second half.

GEORGIA: Togonidze (Dinamo Batumi); Shekiladze (Dinamo Batumi), Tskhadadze (Alania Vladikavkaz), Shelia (Alania Vladikavkaz), Chikhradze (Shakhtyor Donetsk), Kobiashvili (Alania Vladikavkaz), A Arveladze (NAC Breda), Kavelashvili (Grasshopper Zurich), Ketsbaia (Newcastle), Kinkladze (Manchester City), S Arveladze (Ajax). Substitutes: Kaladze (Dinamo Tbilisi) for Tskhadadze, 20; Gogichaishvili (Dinamo Tbilisi) for Kinkladze, 65; Daraselia (Hapoel Tel-Aviv) for A Arveladze, 78.

ITALY: Peruzzi (Juventus); Nesta (Lazio), Maldini (Milan), D Baggio (Parma), Cannavaro (Parma), Ferrara (Juventus), Lombardo (Crystal Palace), Di Livio (Juventus), Vieri (Atletico Madrid), Di Matteo (Chelsea), Zola (Chelsea). Substitutes: Casiraghi (Lazio) for Vieri, 65; R Baggio (Bologna) for Lombardo, 68; Inzaghi (Juventus) for Zola, 80.

Referee: R Pedersen (Denmark).