Italy Rides Emotion to Beat Ukraine 3-0

Friday, June 30th 2006, 10:17 pm

By: News On 6

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ The country is beset by its biggest match-fixing scandal in two dozen years, and a former teammate is fighting for his life after falling from a window.

In the face of such adversity, Italy rode a surge of emotion and produced its best performance in six years Friday for a 3-0 victory over newcomer Ukraine to set up a World Cup semifinal against host Germany.

Striker Luca Toni ended his World Cup frustration with two second-half goals and defender Gianluca Zambrotta produced an all-around performance with a goal, an assist and a goal-line clearance.

Right after the match, Italy's players unfurled an Italian tricolor flag with the inscription ``Pessottino we are with you.'' It referred to Gianluca Pessotto, who played for Italy's Euro 2000 runners-up and was in a drug-induced coma after falling from a Juventus team headquarters window in Turin early in the week.

``My goal was for Pessottino,'' said former Juventus teammate Zambrotta, who flew home earlier in the week to visit his friend. ``All the squad want to extend an affectionate hug to him.''

Pessotto was appointed Juventus team manager after the match-fixing scandal engulfed Italy's most successful club.

``This team has an incredible character and a fantastic spirit,'' said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

Italy wasted no time showing its mind was on the match.

In the sixth minute, Zambrotta ran down the right side, played a one-two with Francesco Totti and finished it off with a searing 20-yard left foot drive that was too much for goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkosvskyi to stop.

Zambrotta's goal, only his second in 56 games for the national team, put the Azzurri in the situation they have perfected over decades: defending a slender lead.

Ukraine _ the surprise team to make the quarterfinals in its maiden World Cup run _ was able to stay in the match until the 58th minute, when Zambrotta kicked a ball off his own goal line.

It would be the last chance of an upset. A minute later, Toni sealed the victory with his first World Cup goal, then added insurance in the 69th minute when he slid in Zambrotta's goalmouth pass.

``I wanted to score one. I managed two,'' Toni said. ``It's a wonderful feeling.''

On this night, Italy hardly resembled a team that wins with defense. Led by Totti, the Azzurri sparkled with little backheels and clean, crisp passing combinations that Ukraine couldn't match.

After seven seasons in Italy's Serie A, Ukraine's lone star, Andriy Shevchenko, no longer held any secrets for Italy's expert defense and could not give his country's president, Victor Yushchenko, any reason to cheer from the stands. Afterward, the Chelsea-bound player went up to the Italian fans, applauded them and bowed in respect.

``I am disappointed that we are out, but this World Cup has been a great achievement for us,'' Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin said. ``The class of the Italian team was just greater. They have better players.''

Ukraine did have chances. But in the 49th minute Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon slapped a header from Andriy Gusin onto the post, and in the 62nd a Gusin header crashed off the bar.

In the end, Ukraine was exposed as a team which had too little to offer beyond a dogged defense.

Italy, meanwhile, had it all. Its defense has given up only one goal so far in this World Cup, an own goal at that. Ukraine's Shevchenko called Buffon ``the greatest goalkeeper in the world.''

In midfield, the tireless Gennaro Gattuso is quickly becoming the face of the Italians _ gritty, determined and unbeatable. And Toni is now scoring.

Italy won the last of its three World Cups in 1982, and this one won't get any easier. Tuesday's semifinal is in Dortmund, where the German team has never lost.

``It's a little step to Berlin. We've almost arrived,'' Totti said. ``I hope we get there because we have shown that we are great squad. And Italy hasn't won the World Cup for a while. It would be great to bring the cup back home.''

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