The Squadra Azzurra stood firm in the face of a desperate Argentinian onslaught in the final stages of their semi final in the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004. On Sunday, they face Spain in an all-European final.
"I am delighted to still be in the competition," declared Nuccorini after the game. "Our play was of a very high standard tonight. The first half was excellent, the second a little bit crazy, but that's to be expected. We deserved to win because we led throughout the entire game, but I want to congratulate this Argentina side, who will have the chance to confirm they are one of the best three teams in the world on Sunday."
After numerous embraces between friends on the opposing sides, it was time to get down to action. Predictably, caution was both sides' watchword in the opening stages, as they concentrated on keeping their shape. Bacaro, however, was quick to identify a flaw in the overly static Argentinian rearguard, putting Italy in front with a superb strike (1-0, 3'). Few had expected such an early goal, let alone one of such quality.
Already 3-0 at the break
Italy were looking a cut above their opponents, creating gaps in a notoriously mean defence by dint of sheer skill. And they soon gained further reward, when after the ball had been played around the edge of the Argentine box for what seemed like an eternity, Fabiano doubled the balance of the azzurro's account (2-0, 9'). The scoreboard was spinning again three minutes later, when Bacaro won the ball from the Argentine midfield and slipped it through the legs of Guisande (3-0, 12'). Italy could scarcely have dreamt of a better start.
Even more pleasingly for their supporters, Italy held onto their lead until the break. At the start of the second half, the pattern remained pretty much unchanged, except that Argentina undeniably had a more menacing air about them. Now with nothing to lose, Larrañaga's men were determined not to go out without a fight.
As they pressed forward, Carlos Sanchez was thwarted by the hands of Feller (28'), but from the resulting corner, the Argentine captain made no mistake with his shot. (3-1, 28'). The Albicelestes were clawing their way back into the game, and two minutes later, came within a whisker of reducing the deficit to one, only for Feller to again stand up strong when it counted (30'). It proved one missed chance too many, as on a counter-attack, Foglia played Vicentini in on goal. The diminutive Italian midfielder did well to block Guisande's clearance, and the ball broke towards Vicentini, who squeezed home a half-volley from an impossible angle (4-1, 32'). Italy seemed to have weathered the worst of the storm.
Five final minutes of mayhem
By the 34th minute, an all-European final was looking a nigh-on certainty, when after making an extraordinary double save, Feller turned provider to send Foglia through on goal. At a time when the Italians were down to four players after Vicentini's exclusion, the waspish striker won his duel (5-1, 34'). When Gimenez immediately got one back for the South Americans (5-2, 34'), it was the cue for an extraordinary final frenzy, with both teams, already on five fouls, knowing that any further offence would be punished with a ten-metre free-kick.
Bacaro briefly gave Italy some breathing space (6-2, 35'), only for Wilhelm to restore the goal gap to three (6-3, 35'). Then it was Montovaneli's turn to extend Italy's lead (7:3, 38'), before Gimenez grabbed his second and the game's final goal (7-4, 40').
After the match, Fernando Larrañaga was unable to disguise his disappointment: "We started very badly, like we did against Brazil. When we conceded two early goals through defensive errors - and some very good Italian play - my players started to get nervous. It was almost a rerun of the game we lost to the same team two years ago in Egypt. Italy thoroughly deserve their place in the final."