Italy crashed out of Euro 2004 despite beating Bulgaria 2-1. The result from a wet and windy Guimares was academic as the 2-2 draw between Sweden and Denmark in the group’s other game, meant that Italy could not qualify.
Italy’s win came after they had earlier fallen behind to a first half penalty by Martin Petrov. Perrotta’s equaliser just after the break gave them hope before Cassano thought he had taken Giovanni Trapattoni’s team through, only to discover that Sweden had secured a late goal in Porto.
The torrential rain in Guimares was hardly conducive to open flowing football, but that could hardly excuse Italy’s poor first half performance.
Trapattoni’s team looked ordinary, bereft of attacking ideas against a Bulgaria side, who until this match, had not scored a goal in the competition.
Italy had to wait 13 minutes for their first opening. Cassano, so impressive against Sweden, delivered a deep cross to the far post where the onrushing Zambrotta unleashed a powerful volley which was parried away by Bulgarian keeper Zdravkov. The rebound fell to Del Piero, but the Juventus forward’s snap shot dribbled past the post.
It was to be yet another disappointing night for Del Piero and when the inquests about Italy’s exit are held, his ineffectual displays will come under close scrutiny.
It was as close as Italy were to come to scoring in the opening period. Cassano shot wide and Corradi had a couple of weak headers, but that was it for Italy’s as an attacking force.
At the other end, Bulgaria looked dangerous through the pacy Petkov on the left, but Italy were dealing comfortably with any threat. That was until a harmless-looking ball was lofted toward Berbatov, who was wrestled to the ground by Materazzi and the referee pointed straight to the spot.
Italy complained vehemently about the decision and they may well have had grounds for complaint. Nonetheless, Petrov wasn’t complaining and he dispatched the penalty with ease.
Immediately after the break Italy were on level terms through Perrotta.
Zambrotta, Italy’s best player on the night, surged down the left before cutting the ball back for Cassano whose shot struck the bar before falling to Perrotta who hooked in the rebound.
The goal galvanised Italy and they spent the bulk of the second half camped in Bulgaria’s half. Vieri was introduced as a second half substitute and he had several headed opportunities, each of which went wide.
Bulgaria could have settled the match when, totally against the run of play, they earned a free-kick on the edge of the Italian area, and only a fine save from Buffon kept the scores level.
With time running out Cassano, fired in a wonderful winner for Italy, but by then, the damage in Porto had been done.
No doubt the conspiracy theorists will have a field day dissecting Italy’s departure, but the reality is, they didn’t deserve to progress. Only during a 45 minute spell in their second game against Sweden, did they look anything other than ordinary. For Trapattoni, it is a disappointing way to end his spell as coach of Italy, but given the cautious approach he has adopted throughout his tenure, he will not be missed.
Italy 2-1 Bulgaria
-Italy: Simone Perrotta 48, Antonio Cassano 90+4
-Bulgaria: Martin Petrov 45pen
Italy:1-Gianluigi Buffon; 2-Christian Panucci, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 23-Marco Materazzi (17-Marco Di Vaio 83), 19-Gianluca Zambrotta; 14-Stefano Fiore, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Simone Perrotta (3-Massimo Oddo 68); 18-Antonio Cassano, 7-Alessandro Del Piero, 11-Bernardo Corradi (9-Christian Vieri 53).
Bulgaria: 1-Zdravko Zdravkov; 7-Daniel Borimirov, 18-Predrag Pazhin (6-Kiril Kotev 64), 5-Zlatomir Zagorcic, 22-Ilian Stoyanov; 21-Zoran Jankovic (20-Valeri Bojinov 46), 8-Milen Petkov, 15-Marian Hristov (10-Velizar Dimitrov 79); 17-Martin Petrov, 9-Dimitar Berbatov, 11-Zdravko Lazarov
Referee: Valentin Ivanov (Russia)