Italy edged out Paraguay in a pressure-cooker atmosphere to qualify for the second round of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004. Despite opening the scoring, the South Americans are now out of the competition and must be rueing their inability to take command of the game when they were in control.
"What I have witnessed tonight casts a shadow over our victory," declared a sweat-drenched Alessandro Nuccorini a few minutes after this heated encounter. "All the violence we have seen tonight is truly the worst possible advert for futsal. Four of our players are now injured, and under such difficult conditions, I can only be happy with the conduct of my team. Not only did they manage to keep their cool, they also won the match. I am really proud of them."
Right from the early minutes, no quarter was asked or given. The pace of the game was frenetic and the goal attempts numerous, although neither keeper was forced into a save. The tension was, if anything, a little too palpable, and when the referee awarded a foul against Italy after a clash between two players, the azzurro bench erupted with rage. The verbal exchange was not for the squeamish, especially when Paraguayan captain Carlos Chilavert threw in his own six pennyworth. Order was finally restored when the player was shown a yellow card (5').
Spurred on, the Italians decided to step up a gear, forcing goalkeeper Acuna to make four saves in quick succession. Then, rather senselessly, Italy conceded a free kick from ten metres, and were relieved to see the ball sail high into the stands of the Linkou Gymnasium. (11')
Zanetti and Bacaro put Italy in driving seat
The match remained as physical as ever, with the Paraguayans frequently pushing the boundaries of legality with their physical commitment. Italy's Morgado was even forced to retreat to the bench for treatment on a cut above his eye, and Walter Villalba took advantage of his absence to fire a well-placed shot beyond Italy's impressive keeper Angelini (1-0, 13'). The Paraguayan bench was ecstatic, as were their boisterous supporters.
But a tight contest had been predicted and so it proved, with Sandro Zanetti making the most of some loose marking to strike home a powerful left-foot shot (1-1, 17'). Two minutes later, Bacaro could have made it 2-1, but instead only found the Paraguayan post (19'). That miss cannot have affected his confidence though, as the very next minute, he needed no second invitation to rifle a shot past Acuna and put Italy in front (2-1, 20'). At the break, it was Italy who went in with their noses in front.
Both teams badly needed to get their breath back if they were to steel themselves for what looked likely to be twenty more minutes of mayhem. But at the start of the second half, the pace was noticeably lower. Italy were enjoying plenty of possession, while Paraguay were relying on the counter-attack. And it was on one such foray forward that their captain, Carlos Chilavert, dispatched an unerring strike from the left beneath Angelini's bar (2-2, 29'). That was the cue for another frantic period of play, during which Morgado reacted fastest to a blocked shot and, faced with an empty net, restored the Europeans' advantage (3-2, 31'). It was a goal that really put the cat among the pigeons, as the Paraguayans, realising they now had to score twice to keep their dream alive, resorted to their first-half tactics.
Adolfo Ruiz: "We certainly had our chances"
But as Japan equalised at the NTU against the United States, Zanetti scored the fourth Italian goal to put an end to the South Americans' dwindling hopes (4-2, 36'). Their last-gasp assault came to naught, and the Albirrojos were eliminated from the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004.
"We started the game well," insisted Adolfo Ruiz after the match. "My players stayed focused during the entire game, but Italy's second goal, coming as it did a few seconds before the break, took the wind out of our sails. The Italians were constantly trying to wind us up, and my players did nothing more than respond. We knew before we came here that it would be tough to qualify from this group, but we still felt we had a chance. In a tournament like this, one defeat is crippling enough, but two…"