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Football World Cup 2002: Disappointing Italy could become the hosts' next victims.

Byline: IAN COYNE

ITALY have shown scant

evidence that they possess the stubborn qualities of the Azzurri of old in this World Cup, and they are there to be opposed against South Korea in Daejon today.

Italy traditionally start slowly in the group stages of

international tournaments

before developing the knack of nicking victories without

playing particularly well.

But while it is no surprise that they sneaked into the second round with just four points, their grinding quality has eluded them this year, and after comfortably beating Ecuador 2-0 in their first match they have turned in worse displays in both their

subsequent games.

Though their defeat by Croatia could have been partially excused due to the poor officiating which robbed them of two goals, they were fortunate to take a point from Mexico, who outclassed them in their final group game.

While the Italy of old might have ground out an unimpressive but vital win in

similar circumstances, this generation of Azzurri huffed and puffed, but ultimately only stayed in the tournament because Ecuador surprisingly beat Croatia.

Despite a shocking display against the Mexicans, Francesco Totti looks set to keep his place today, with Filippo Inzhagi sacrificed in

order to create a place in the starting line-up for Alessandro Del Piero, who scrambled their equaliser.

But it is at the back that Italy have lacked the characteristics of their best teams.

The lack of communication within the defensive unit was demonstrated by Jared Borgetti's opening goal in their last outing.

Paolo Maldini followed the Mexican striker's run when he could easily have played him offside had he been in tune with those alongside him.

Those defensive worries are compounded by continuing doubts over Alessandro Nesta's fitness, and the suspension of Fabio Cannavaro.

Mark Iuliano is likely to partner Maldini if Nesta is ruled out, but whoever Trapattoni selects at the back, South Korea have demonstrated that they are capable of capitalising if the pairing fails to gel.

The weakness in Italy's rearguard won't have escaped the attention of Korea's coach Guus Hiddink, who can be expected to give free reign to Park Ji-Sung and Ahn Jung-Hwan to run at the Italian defence, as they did to such great effect in Korea's

victories over Poland and

Portugal.

After those impressive

triumphs, the co-hosts are

certainly no 4-1 shots.

Recommendation

South Korea

4pts 4-1 (general)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 18, 2002
Words:394
Previous Article:Football World Cup 2002: Diary - Portuguese accused of carve-up bid.
Next Article:Football World Cup 2002: The three wise men - Take 4-1 Korea to see Spanish in quarter-final.


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