Sad Italy qualifies for Euro 2008

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Italian soccer has gone from tears to cheers in just one week.

Updated: November 19, 2007 11:05 IST
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Glasgow, Scotland:

Italian soccer has gone from tears to cheers in just one week.

Fresh outbreaks of hooliganism had plunged the country into turmoil after a fan was shot dead by a police officer last weekend. But the Azzurri restored pride to Italy's tarnished image by performing on the pitch.

And all it took was 1 minute, 8 seconds on a rain-swept pitch in Glasgow, Scotland.

Luca Toni scored the first goal and then provided the late winner as the world champions booked their place at next year's European Championship with a 2-1 victory over Scotland.

"I'm overjoyed," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "But the biggest result of all is the relationship I have with those players who went out there, and they battled away for me and for the Italian nation."

Attached to every player's white jersey was a black armband in memory of the 26-year-old Lazio fan who was killed by a police officer.

"It is our duty to dedicate the victory to Gabriele Sandri," Toni said.

Donadoni believes the domestic game should pay heed to the Tartan Army's conduct, remaining magnanimous as Scotland's hopes of qualifying to Euro 2008 faded away.

"The Scottish fans showed how to behave and get behind a team in a stadium," Donadoni said. "Their correctness on and off the pitch has given us all something we can learn from."

Despite the players proving themselves impervious to the earsplitting Hampden crowd, Italy's early advantage was canceled out by Scotland captain Barry Ferguson in the 65th minute. That led to Donadoni hauling off Antonio Di Natale in favor of Vincenzo Iaquinta.

"When a team equalizes you expect them to push forward and some fear does creep into your play," Donadoni said. "But it's important not to give up and that's why I made the change, putting Iaquinta onto the right because I felt we were weak on that side."

If the score had remained level, Italy's qualification would have been delayed until Wednesday, when it is expected to sweep aside the Faeroe Islands, which is without a point in Group B.

But Christian Panucci headed Toni's cross into the net in the 90th to end Scotland's perfect record at home in qualifying.

"We knew that we had to play a physical match, and given the conditions even more so," Donadoni said. "To say that they were marvelous is understating it."

After avoiding the fate of the 1982 world champions, which failed to make Euro '84, Donadoni can now build for the future with the players that raised the 2006 World Cup.

"This team can go head-to-head with any team and has nothing it need be afraid of," Donadoni said. "I'm learning from every game and from this group of players.

"I'm not going to get philosophical about it because I don't have the words to do so, but I just wish everyone could feel what I felt in the dressing room after that game,"

Captain Fabio Cannavaro, who returned from suspension, has now set his sights on the final tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

"This is a close-knit team," Cannavaro said. "When it knows it has to win, it goes onto the field as world champions."

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