CHRISTIAN VIERI claims he has no interest in winning the Golden Boot this summer. At this rate, after his fifth goal in four games proved sufficient to end Norway's fine adventure, he may well just have to shrug and accept the accolade anyway. Just as the rest of the world may have to come to terms with the fact Italy are looking as pragmatic and resourceful as ever and, a likely quarter-final date with France notwithstanding, appear a sound bet for another run to the World Cup final.
Cesare Maldini's team cannot claim to compete with the South American giants for flair and creativity but they possess a typically resolute defensive unit and a striker who is bang in form. Norway, unable to muster the adrenalin and self-belief that overpowered Brazil here five nights ago, seldom looked like extending their historic march into the second round of the World Cup finals into a further week.
Vieri looks as if he would fit straight into a Norway team, with his robust approach and willingness to run across the front line for the sake of the team. But once again, when his moment arrived, he finished with as much aplomb as a Del Piero or a Baggio and Norway, in 30 degrees of Marseilles heat, were floundering.
Egil Olsen will have to accept last Tuesday's victory over the world champions as the crowning glory after a highly effective eight-year tenure in charge of Norway. "Drillo", as the retiring national coach is affectionately known in his homeland in memory of his playing days as a mazy, dribbling winger, was not able to call upon a back-up plan when Italy had sussed how to keep out the traditional methods that had allowed Norway to go 17 games unbeaten.
However, Olsen was unwilling to accept that Norway had been beaten by the better side. "Of course I'm disappointed, for several reasons," he said. "First, we didn't play up to our limits. I felt that if we had done that we would have won the game. In truth, I wasn't that impressed with Italy so I felt it was because we didn't play our best that Italy won the match.
"We came here with a first target of reaching the last 16. But once you reach there you want to go further. In fact, today, we had a good chance to do that, especially in the last half of the second half when Italy tired."
And yet in the opening half of what was not a game for the happy-go-lucky neutrals, Norway's least desirable scenario unfolded. A searing sun beating down on their hardworking backs, a goal behind on 18 minutes, they even had to use up two of their substitutes, leaving them with precious little extra to call upon for a last hurrah.
Italy played it simple. Men behind the ball when out of possession, Luigi di Biagio looking for the runs of Vieri when regaining it. The combination worked a treat when these two informed players combined for Di Biagio to slot from the centre-circle a neat pass for the Atletico Madrid forward to gallop on to and finish with unnerving confidence.
Norway, somewhat out of keeping with the Olsen mantra, were willing to venture men forward in numbers. Perhaps, considered with hindsight, defeating Brazil provided too early a high. When Tore Andre Flo capitalised on Fabio Cannavaro's mistake shortly after the goal and intelligently pulled the ball back, his team-mates were guilty of over- elaboration. Norway? Overly decorative? It's true. First Erik Mykland tried a delicate little flick-on, then Roar Strand attempted a flashy drag-back, and the chance was gone. The ball just wanted a good kicking.
The pattern of the game saw Norway pushing more and more men forward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again given but a bit-sized opportunity to feed off Tore Andre Flo - and Italy breaking with dash and conviction.
There must be a textbook somewhere where the term catenaccio is illustrated by a diagram of Alessandro Del Piero sprinting on to Demetrio Albertini's incisive pass to shoot inches wide.
Norway had their moments, though without ever getting up the head of steam that inspired Tuesday's dramatic late recovery, and, after 71 minutes, Dan Eggen chipped a pass out wide to Mykland whose good and hard cross was aimed - no surprise here - at the head of Tore Andre Flo and resulted in another excellent save from the alert Gianluca Pagliuca.
Cesare Maldini, the Italy coach, clearly saw no necessity to win new friends in addition to the match and said: "It was a highly tactical match. Norway played well with good tactics but we were able to counter them successfully and our goal was well deserved. We didn't take too many risks and that worked for us." As, through the years, it always seems to.
Italy (4-4-2): Pagliuca (Internazionale); Costacurta (Milan), Bergomi (Internazionale), Cannavaro (Parma), Maldini (Milan); Moriero (Internazionale), Albertini (Milan), Di Biagio (Roma), D Baggio (Parma); Del Piero (Juventus), Vieri (Atletico Madrid). Substitutes: Di Livio (Juventus) for Moriero, 62; ; Pessotto (Juventus) for Albertini, 72; Chiesa (Parma) for Del Piero, 77.
Norway (4-5-1): Grodas (Tottenham); Berg (Manchester Utd), Eggen (Celta Vigo), Johnsen (Manchester Utd), Bjornebye (Liverpool); H Flo (Werder Bremen), Mykland (Panathinaikos), Rekdal (Hertha Berlin), Leonhardsen (Liverpool), Riseth (Linz ASK); T A Flo (Chelsea). Substitutes: Strand (Rosenborg) for Leonhardsen, 12; Solbakken (Aalborg) for Strand, 39; Solskjaer (Manchester Utd) for H Flo, 72.
Referee: B Heynemann (Germany).
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