Italy regroups, beats Norway

June 24, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi escaped Egil Olsen's kiss of death yesterday.

Legend has it that seven coaches have been fired after losing to Olsen, who coaches Norway, and Sacchi was a serious candidate to become No. 8 before yesterday's World Cup match.

Sacchi has faced criticism during the past month for not having enough offense. Then his team lost the tournament opener to Ireland. And then his goalkeeper was ejected early yesterday, his star player was hampered by a hamstring injury and Italy had to play nearly 70 minutes with 10 players.

"I was very aware of Coach Olsen's reputation," said Sacchi. "Fear of losing? You always have that fear when you play with only 10. But Italians, we have heart."

Plus guts, character, stamina and a 1994 World Cup win.

Midfielder Dino Baggio squeezed through two defenders and headed a goal on a left-wing pass from Giuseppe Signori in the 69th minute, as Italy defeated Norway, 1-0, in a Group E match yesterday at Giants Stadium.

"It was a game that we will certainly remember for some years," said Sacchi. "I am relieved, but it's not time to celebrate. We still have Mexico."

But for one day, Sacchi gave the pro-Italy crowd of 74,624 something to cheer about. Sacchi was greeted by a lukewarm reception during pre-game introductions, even though thousands of Italian faithful came with their faces painted red-white-and-green, beat drums and draped flags from the upper decks.

Before yesterday, Ireland and Norway led Group E with three points, and Italy and Mexico each had zero. Italy, now with three points, meets Mexico Tuesday in Washington.

"You have no idea of what it is like to be on Italian team, and leave after first round of World Cup," said forward Roberto Baggio.

Italy seemed more in danger of that fate after goalie Gianluca Pagliuca received a red card in the 20th minute. He charged and stopped Oyvind Leonhardsen's shot on a breakaway from outside the penalty box, but he was given the red card for deliberately handling the ball outside the penalty area. "I had no choice. We could not afford to give up a goal like that," said Pagliuca, who must sit out the next game.

Sacchi put in goalie Luca Marchegiani, and then he had to remove a player to make the substitution. In a surprising move, Sacchi took out Roberto Baggio, the 1993 World Player of the Year.

Fortunately for Sacchi and Italy, Dino Baggio scored. The goal was set up on a free kick by forward Pierluigi Casiraghi. Baggio somehow got between two defenders, and got just enough on the ball for it to go over the head of goalie Erik Thorstvedt.

The goal inspired the crowd and Italy, which spent the closing minutes of the game with eight players on the field because two were out with injuries and the team had no substitutions left.

Norway had several chances near the end, but it failed to convert. A handball violation cost the Norwegians a goal at the 83rd minute.

As the Italians walked off the field, a smile came over Sacchi's face. Maybe his moves didn't all work yesterday, but Italy won.

There was no one to second-guess why he recalled Casiraghi yesterday, a striker Sacchi put on the bench for the final pre-tournament games.

Or if he was happy with the play of midfielder Nicola Berti, who replaced the injured Alberico Evani, or right back Antonio Benarrivo, who started in place of Mauro Tassotti.

"Baggio had some injuries, and we needed 10 players on the field who could run all the time," said Sacchi. "He is rested now, and I think he'll have a big game against Mexico. People say we not have right combination, but we have the combination today. I did something right, huh?"

"After only 20 minutes, I was not thrilled about coming out. I thought coach had put the wrong number on the board," said Baggio. "But he made his decision, and this win is great for our morale."

"The fear of going home was evident today," said Baggio.

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