Italy got their tournament off to the perfect start as goals in either half by Pierluigi Casiraghi earned Arrigo Sacchi's charges their first, and indeed only, victory of what was to be a short-lived English adventure.
It took Casiraghi just five minutes to break the deadlock, following a mistake at the back by their Russian opponents. Midfielder Angelo di Livio picked up a poor clearance by Stanislav Cherchesov and played in the unmarked S.S. Lazio striker, who drove a first-time shot into the bottom corner. Russia, however, hit back midway through the first half when when Viktor Onopko teed up Valeri Karpin, whose shot was blocked, but Ilya Tsymbalar was on hand to tuck away the rebound.
Italy appeared rattled and struggled to rediscover their rhythm before the interval, but the appearance of Roberto Donadoni – still a class act – changed all that. Demetrio Albertini now had the help of a midfielder with experience and guile, and the Azzurri soon established their dominance, Gianfranco Zola's square pass producing another instant low finish from Casiraghi, who missed two further chances before going off injured.
With Paolo Maldini completely negating the threat of Russia's fleet-footed Everton FC winger Andrei Kanchelskis, Italy were in charge and but for substitute Fabrizio Ravanelli squandering two presentable goalscoring chances in the final minutes, would have won by a more comfortable margin. Indeed, they were misses that would prove costly in the eventual qualification reckoning.