Guimaraes:Italy have the ignominy of being the first team since 1980, to have been knocked out of the European Championships without losing a match. The 2000 runners up won their last match against Bulgaria with an injury time goal, but that wasn't good enough to take them to the quarterfinal stage. Bulgaria in form Italy went into their game against Bulgria knowing nothing less than 3 points and lots of goals would do but they found the Bulgarian keeper in inspired form. Bulgaria were weakened by the loss of their influential captain Stilian Petrov, sent-off in the 2-0 defeat to Denmark. Both teams kept giving possession away in the opening exchanges on a surface made slippery by constant drizzle, but the Bulgarians were the first to threaten, Martin Petrov's fierce 20-yard shot beaten away by Gianluigi Buffon. Controversial penalty? Italy should have taken the lead in the 13th minute, Stefano Fiore's shot superbly saved by Zdravko Zdravkov and Del Piero poking the rebound wide from close range with the Bulgarian goalkeeper stranded on the floor. With half time beckoning, Italy were suddenly facing a mountain to climb as Bulgaria were awarded a somewhat controversial penalty for a foul by Materazzi on Berbatov. Martin Petrov confidently slotted home Bulgaria's first goal in the competition. But within two minutes of the restart, Italy were back in business. Italy responded with Cassano screwing a shot wide on the half hour with only Zdravkov to beat and Zdravko Lazarov went close for Bulgaria just before half-time, a purposeful run ending with his goalbound shot blocked. Gripped by fear, the Italians struggled to find any rhythm and their anxiety increased just before half-time when Bulgaria were awarded a penalty. Materazzi wrestled Dimitar Berbatov to the floor inside the penalty area and Petrov's coolly slotted spot-kick sent Buffon the wrong way. Goal difference Italy were quick off the mark at the start of the second half, restoring parity in the 48th minute. Cassano's thunderbolt hit the underside of the bar and Zdravkov flapped when the rebound bounced high in the air allowing Perrotta to pounce and prod home the equaliser. The game ended in a torrent of emotion for Italy as Cassano brilliantly converted Del Piero's low cross. But that joy turned to despair once the final whistle went as even 3 points were not to see the Italians through - the EURO 2000 runners-up were out on goal difference.
(With wire inputs)
Topics : Football