Sacchi faces the flak

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It will have come as no surprise to Arrigo Sacchi to learn that he has been declared public enemy No 1 by the Italian press. It goes with the job. Even successful coaches of Italy suffer; so after his side's 2-1 defeat by the Czech Republic he would have feared the worst.

"Sacchi, you went looking for this one," ran a headline in Corriere dello Sport, and by making five changes from the team who had beaten Russia three days earlier, perhaps he did. Gazzetta dello Sport took up the same theme. "Sacchi gets us in big trouble as Italy pays for all its changes".

Praising the opening triumph over the Russians, Gazzetta said: "It seemed like a miracle to have found such a dignified national team, even a beautiful one. But then Arrigo made a scary gamble, a bit of originality that no one had asked of him."

Corriere dello Sport said: "This whole damned game was built up in a crazy way and then guided from our bench in a manner that was absolutely not in line with its importance."

It said Sacchi's changes took away "equilibrium, continuity and concentration" from the squad. "We lost the game in those 10 minutes, as the Czechs scored their second goal."

Gianni Mura, a columnist, wrote in the daily La Repubblica: "One of the gravest of Sacchi's errors was to start [the striker] Fabrizio Ravanelli, who is far from being in acceptable form." Ravanelli replaced Pierluigi Casiraghi, who scored both goals against Russia.

Not that Sacchi will be the slightest bothered by such criticism. One of his predecessors, Enzo Bearzot, had a hate-hate relationship with the Italian press right up until the moment when he was proved right, when Italy beat West Germany to win the World Cup in Spain.

Sacchi insists Italy are too good to go out of Euro 96 at this stage (Bearzot's side could not win a match in the first round in 1982), even though Italy may now have to beat Germany in their final match on Wednesday to stay in the tournament.

"Italy do not deserve to go home," Sacchi told reporters yesterday. "We have been playing a high standard of football and I'm still convinced we had an excellent second half against the Czechs. If Pierluigi Casiraghi had scored in injury time, I'm sure your questions would have been different. But we learned a lot last night."

Sacchi had nominated the Germans as the most likely winners, yet now has to convince his players they are beatable if Italy's ambitions are not to wither.

"There's a simple rule. When you've won you're good, when you lose you're not," Sacchi said.