Italy's Donadoni rewarded for dropping big guns

MILAN, Sep 13 (Reuters) Roberto Donadoni's decision to shuffle his pack came up trumps when Italy won 2-1 in Ukraine in their Euro 2008 qualifier to move into second in Group B.

The Italian coach was under pressure after the world champions lost 3-1 to Hungary in a friendly last month and drew 0-0 with group rivals France in Milan on Saturday.

Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero was well off the pace in the goalless draw, while fellow World Cup winner Daniele De Rossi was sloppy and AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi failed to really trouble the French defence.

Faced with a tricky trip to Ukraine, already devoid of the injured Luca Toni and Marco Materazzi, Donadoni could have been forgiven for playing his top names again in Kiev.

Instead he dropped the three who struggled at the San Siro and brought in Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale, Juve forward Vincenzo Iaquinta and Milan midfielder Massimo Ambrosini.

The coach also selected 34-year-old Christian Panucci in place of inconsistent right back Massimo Oddo and stuck by inexperienced Palermo centre back Andrea Barzagli.

The gamble paid off with two goals by Di Natale and a cute assist by Ambrosini while his other changes also contributed to the victory, which 32-year-old Del Piero watched from the stands yesterday after failing to even make the bench.

''Ale (Del Piero) had tired a lot against France and I needed fresh legs. Unfortunately on such occasions and with this type of game it is necessary to take painful decisions,'' Donadoni told as the Azzurri flew home.

The diminuitive Di Natale, who has 12 caps, was especially thrilled with his header for the first goal.

''When I saw the ball in the net I said, ''Me with my head? Absurd,'' Di Natale told reporters.

''Then I understood that it was a special night.'' Di Natale will recall that new Udinese team mate Fabio Quagliarella made a name for himself with two superb goals in June's 2-0 win in Lithuania but has since struggled to match the performance and only came on as a late substitute yesterday.


Story first published: Thursday, September 13, 2007, 17:41 [IST]
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