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Last-minute Italy survive scare to beat lowly Cyprus

SoccerNews in Serie A, World Cup 6 Sep 2008

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Defending champions Italy needed a last-minute goal to eke out a 2-1 victory against lowly Cyprus in a below-par performance to kick-off their World Cup qualifying campaign on Saturday.

Antonio Di Natale, with his second goal of the night, secured an undeserved three points in this highly entertaining game in Group Eight.

The defending champions were given an almighty scare by minnows Cyprus who ran them ragged at times on a balmy Mediterranean evening.

“There was little difference between the two sides, Cyprus were unlucky many times. We could have lost this game,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

Cyprus coach Angelos Anastasiades found it hard to hide his disappointment.

“I'm very upset because we can do better. What else can I say?” said Anastasiades.

“Football is not about luck. Today we tried but didn't pull it off. We must look at our mistakes and I take full responsibility for that.”

Di Natale opened the scoring with a raking shot from outside the 18-yard box to give Italy the lead after only eight minutes on the clock.

The goal came against the run of play with Cyprus missing several golden opportunities to score first.

But Cypriot heads did not drop when the Italians scored with the home team continuing to take the game to their opponents who lacked any fluidity in midfield.

In defence, early injuries to Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Gamberini seemed to unsettle the champions.

Omonia winger Efstathios Aloneftis equalised on 28 minutes from close range after a scramble in the box as the Italians failed to deal with a low cross from Marios Nicolaou.

The pacey wide player caused trouble for the visitors all evening and should have got on the scoresheet with just four minutes gone if it wasn't for an outstretched arm from keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Several minutes later Buffon was called on to block another effort from striker Michalis Constanitnou.

Captain Fabio Cannavaro, who missed Euro 2008 through injury, also saved his team by stopping a goal-bound shot from Constantinou.

With Constantinos Charalambides and Costantinos Makridis orchestrating the middle of the park, Cyprus made their world class counterparts Pirlo and De Rossi look ordinary at times.

The second half followed much the same pattern with Cyprus taking the initiative while the Italians looked to break on the counter attack.

Gennaro Gattuso came on after the interval for an ineffectual Luca Toni to bolster the midfield and help repress the Cypriot attack.

At times it was hard to figure out which team were world beaters and which was the one ranked 65th in the FIFA listings.

Alberto Gilardino also laboured up front but he had a great chance to score when put through on goal but keeper Antonis Giorgallides stuck out a leg to force the ball wide.

The keeper nearly gave a goal away when he fumbled a shot but defender Elias Charalambous cleared off the line on 69 minutes.

Cypriot wonderkid Demetris Christofi almost scored an unlikely winner on 75 minutes after coming off the bench but with only Buffon to beat he lost his balance and shot wide.

The most expensive player in Cypriot football also had a free shot from a corner but his effort went agonisingly wide with ten minutes to go.

Italy endured several more close calls in the latter stages before Di Natale scored the unlikely winner, much to the relief of Lippi on his competitive return to the hotseat having replaced Roberto Donadoni who had a dismal Euro 2008.

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