Christian Panucci declared himself to be "as happy as a child" as his late goal earned Roberto Donadoni's Italy a 2-1 win in Scotland and a place in the finals.
Panucci's last-gasp winner ended Scotland's dreams of qualifying for their first major international tournament in a decade as top two spots in Group B now go to Italy and France. "We knew that it was going to a very physical game and the atmosphere made it even more so," said Donadoni. "I have to say that the lads were magnificent. This is a victory that belongs to these players who fought with character and desire - all the credit goes to them."
'Never like this'
Luca Toni gave the Azzurri the best possible start when he opened the scoring after just two minutes before Barry Ferguson sent Hampden Park into raptures with a 65th-minute equaliser. However, Panucci struck in added-time to break Scottish hearts. "Tonight I'm as happy as a child, like my son who is six," said the defender. "I have had many great moments in my career but never like this.
"I am so happy for myself and Donadoni," added the 34-year-old AS Roma right-back as he reflected on the world champions' stunning denoument at Hampden Park. "I hugged him so many times. This qualification was also his. I played with him at [AC] Milan, he has a winning mentality. It's the happiest moment of my career."
Show of strength
Fabio Cannavaro, who won his 112th cap, insisted that the Azzurri had answered all their critics with the all important victory. "We showed our strength tonight," said the Italy captain. "We are a tight-knit squad and when we know we have to win we succeed in giving great displays. We showed that we are the world champions and that we haven't forgotten how to play. After the equaliser we were worried, we felt their desire. Scotland were growing stronger and had several good chances but we managed to stay strong."
'The best we've played'
Toni was also full of praise for his side's mental strength, after the world champions had to dig deep against a battling Scotland side. "We came here knowing that we were going to play in very difficult conditions and that's what happened," he said. "This is the best we've played under Donadoni. My goal was very important, because we showed them what we had come here to do."
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