Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero proved a point on Wednesday night during Italy's UEFA EURO 2004™ victory in Finland.
Twelve months on
The respective captains of AS Roma and Juventus FC had not played together since the Azzurri's 2-1 defeat by the Korean Republic in last summer's FIFA World Cup. Then Totti was sent off in extra time and Del Piero substituted after an hour with Italy leading 1-0.
With Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi unavailable for the trip to Helsinki, Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with S.S. Lazio striker Bernardo Corradi alone in attack and Stefano Fiore, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero operating just behind him.
Before the match, critics had expressed their doubts about this decision saying that Del Piero and Totti were too alike to play in tandem. The statistics said much the same: the duo had never lasted a full 90 minutes together and, in 22 games together, had scored only four goals - all from Del Piero, and two of them from the penalty spot.
Trapattoni had no hesitation, however, in deploying the pair against Finland. "We've played well since we adopted this new formation," he said. "
Totti and Del Piero can always be dangerous. If the Finns want to mark them man to man they will end up committing 30 fouls in 90 minutes."
Trapattoni proved right
The two players did not take long to prove Trapattoni right. On 32 minutes Italy went ahead when Totti scrambled a Christian Panucci cross past Jussi Jääskeläinen at the far post. But it was the second goal which underlined that Totti and Del Piero can combine successfully.
The Roma playmaker turned with the ball in his own half and found Del Piero in space on the right and he cut in from the wing and shot stylishly past Jääskeläinen for his 22nd international goal. Del Piero said: "It was great to play together with Totti. We were trying to combine from the first minute and I think we did really well. I have to thank him for the great assist he gave me when I scored the second goal."
Plays to strengths
Totti was also delighted. "The 4-2-3-1 formation really plays to our strengths," he said. "
I like to play with Del Piero and I think we did really well together. He scored a fantastic goal."
Fifth straight win
Wednesday's win, the fifth in a row for the Azzurri, means Italy are just two points behind Group 9 leaders Wales, whom they face at home on 9 September. Should Totti and Del Piero produce a repeat performance, the road to Portugal will not be as rocky as it seemed a few months ago for Trapattoni's side.
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