Czech Republic 0-3 Italy: Azzurri safely into semis
It was an extremely hardworking Italian side that qualified for the semi-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 tonight. Never really troubled by their Czech opponents, the Squadra Azzurra will face Argentina next Friday in their first-ever semis berth in this competition.
"I am happy tonight, as this is a historic result for us," acknowledged Alessandro Nuccorini only moments after the game. "It may not have been our finest performance since the start of the tournament, but I prefer to dwell on the fact that we won. You can't expect a wonder-performance in a second-round closing game."
Oozing channelled aggression and determination, Italy showed from the outset that they had every intention of claiming the semi-final place for themselves. And while the Czechs were not exactly given the run-around, the Squadra Azzurra certainly never allowed them a moment's respite. In the face of this constant pressure, in was no surprise when Michal Striz's protégés eventually began to buckle. Grana's opening goal (1-0, 8') sparked scenes of joy worthy of a FIFA World Cup FinalTM, inspiring Bertoni to emulate his team-mate (2-0, 12').
Zanetti's final nail
From that point on, the Italians had just one thing in mind: preserving their lead. Consequently, the Czechs enjoyed the lion's share of possession, only to come up against the Azzurro's own version of the Great Wall of China. With the score unchanged, the two sides went in for a well-earned break, while goalkeeper Jan Klima, an initial victim of Striz's squad rotation policy, prepared to enter the fray in the second half.
After the restart, the Czechs had a more purposeful air about them, but being camped as they were in the Italian half left them horribly exposed to the counter-attack. As they gradually came back into the match, Italy struck the upright twice, before Sandro Zanetti confirmed their superiority with the third and killer goal (3-0, 30').
The game now over as a contest, the tension dropped several notches. The Czechs introduced a swathe of substitutes, while Italy elected to run down the clock by stroking the ball around up front, thereby avoiding any last-minute scares at the other end.
For Michal Striz, it was time for an honest evaluation: "I am disappointed to have lost all three second round matches and to have played so poorly tonight. We knew very well that the other three teams in our group were considerably stronger than us, as when amateurs play against pros, it's physique that proves decisive. Now, we're going to get stuck into our preparations for the next European Championship, by which time we intend to have improved our standard of play."