Roberto Donandoni had been understandably under fire since the three goal surrender to the Dutch and responded by sending out a completely new team. Well almost. Grosso, de Rossi and Del Piero were almost certain to be included, but Donadoni went further and got in Chiellini and Perrotta as well.
Romania made two changes as well but it was definitely the Italians who started better. After an early Mutu shot, it was Del Piero and Toni who had chances to score but missed.
The pattern of play in the first half was established soon. Camoranesi works hard and links up with Grosso on the left and occasionally with Zambrotta on the right who then send crosses in for Toni. The cross may be from the by-line or anywhere near the touchline in the final third. Toni either makes a weak header or heads wide or something else which is not a goal. Romania play their part too. When they do get the ball and manage to keep it away from Camoranesi, they work hard and get it to Mutu. Mutu troubles defenders and has shots and all in all it’s a thrilling, gripping encounter. Romania even hit the post through Chivu’s free kick and a Panucci deflection.
It was thrilling and gripping alright, but a few ominous signs were visible for Italy. Del Piero and in particular Toni were both not looking their sharpest, but more importantly, Italy seemed to have only one plan – bomb the ball to Toni. Even there, all dangerous balls came from the flanks and there was nothing creative through the middle. De Rossi, Pirlo and Perrotta were all either invisible or losing possession when they did see any of the ball. De Rossi and Pirlo never really carried the ball forward don the middle and Perrotta rarely followed up behind Toni to get into dangerous positions. All Italian moves from the centre were long balls to Toni and with Perrotta not very lively, none of them had any effect.
The Romanians defended brilliantly and looked dangerous when Mutu had the ball or from long range efforts and set pieces.
Toni did eventually put the ball into the net and was wrongly called offside. It was a chip over the defence and it was not the only time that Toni had space for the header but t was the only time he did score. Hard luck to the Italians but in my view any strategy that depends solely on finding the striker’s head will yield at the most one goal in a game and that was it.
I was surprised that Donadoni did not make any changes at half time because the game needed one. There seemed to be only two ways of breaking the deadlock – a defensive error (like leaving Toni free) or a moment of brilliance very likely to be from a long range effort. There seemed to be little chance of complete domination and persistent pressure breaking the opponent down.
The defensive errors came first from the Italians and then immediately after that from the Romanians. Mutu finished well after Zambrotta’s howler and Panucci was there to take advantage of a non-clearance of Chiellini’s header across goal after a corner.
The goals aside, the second half offered nothing new for most of the firty-five. Romania looked more dangerous after the hour mark and the Italy midfield refused to improve. Camoranesi faded out as the half progressed and the midfield trio continued to disappoint. Cassano came on for Perrotta and had maybe two good moments in the game.
Donadoni replaced the tired Camoranesi and Del Pierro but there was no real spark coming. A slightly soft penalty for the Romanians could have ended the tournament for the Italians. But Mutu did look nervy before taking the shot (he glanced hesitantly at the ref when he blew the whistle for the kick) and Buffon was the favorite to save it once he had dived correctly. It did need two touches from Buffon but Italy will take it and it may put some belief in the team about destiny and stuff before they meet France next.
My Man-of-the-Match has to be the Romanian keeper Lobont who made some good saves and looked very assured in goal.
This game raises big questions about Donadoni. I don’t think his changes had too much conviction, seemed too populist to me. Couldn’t understand why he didn’t get his midfield to participate more and it was apparent that the Italian bench may not be so impressive after all. Also did not like the extended wait to try and change things at all.
As for Victor Piturca and his Romanian team, they are well placed to qualify despite the Mutu penalty miss. I’ll not be surprised if Romania qualify after a third draw, this time against the Dutch with France and Italy also playing out a draw. It’s just a premonition. They look like a well organized team that knows it strengths and will play to them. A lot depends on how Mutu responds to the missed penalty and the loss of Radoi will also be a blow. They could qualify and be effective enough to knock out some off the big guns. Having said that, with all the beautiful teams on display in this tournament, it will be disappointing to see a team with the Romanian approach win.