NPR logo Dominant Italy Beats Ukraine, Faces Germany

Dominant Italy Beats Ukraine, Faces Germany

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) - With defenders like this, Italy didn't really need spectacular offense to get past Ukraine and into the World Cup semifinal.

Luca Toni went ahead and showcased Italy's talent up front anyway.

With an early strike, a goal-saving scramble and an assist from defender Gianluca Zambrotta, Italy held off the World Cup newcomer 3-0 on Friday, setting up a Tuesday match against host Germany.

One minute after Zambrotta kicked a ball off his own goalline to quash Ukraine's last hope of an upset, Toni scored his first World Cup goal just ahead of the hour mark with a header and added a second when he slid in Zambrotta's goalmouth pass in the 69th minute.

Zambrotta flew home early in the week to visit former Juventus teammate Gianluca Pessotto, who is fighting for his life after falling from a window at the Italian club team's headquarters in Turin. The defender poured his emotions into a 6th minute run on th e right, setting up a one-two with playmaker Francesco Totti and finishing it off with a searing 20-yard left foot drive that was too hot for goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkosvskyi to stop.

Right after the match, Italy's players unfurled an Italian tricolor with the inscription "Pessotto we are with you."

Only Zambrotta's second goal in 56 games for Italy, it put the Azzurri in the situation they have perfected over decades of World Cup success: defending a slender lead. After a few narrow escapes, Toni made sure Italy did not have to worry until the final whistle.

And if they have a reputation for unattractive play to achieve that goal, it was never on show Friday. Led by Totti, the Azzurri sparkled with little backheels and clean, crisp passing combinations that Ukraine could never match.

After seven seasons in Italy's Serie A, Ukraine's lone star Andriy Shevchenko no longer held any secrets for Italy's expert defense and could not give his president Victor Yushchenko any reason to cheer in the stands. Afterward, the Chelsea-bound player went up to the Italian fans, applauded them and bowed in respect.

In the end, Ukraine - the surprise team to make the quarterfinals in its maiden World Cup run - was finally exposed as a team which had too little to offer beyond a robust defense.

"I am disappointed that we are out but this World Cup has been a great achievement for us," said Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin.

And even when the Italian defense made a rare fumble, there was goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon slapping a header from Andriy Gusin onto the post in the 49th minute. World Cups are not only won on talent and Italy was lucky when a header from Andriy Gusin crashed onto the bar in the 62nd.

Qualification for the semifinal offered a welcome reprieve for Italy, which has been embroiled in a sensational match-fixing scandal at home. Pessotto - appointed Juventus team manager after much of its front office resigned - was in a drug-induced coma Friday when Zambrotta scored.

In the stands was a banner which read "Italy Again 1982." That year was also marked by a match-fixing scandal but Italy nevertheless went on to win its third World Cup.

Totti regained his place on Italy's starting lineup for the quarterfinal against Ukraine, which fielded Artem Milevskiy in place of injured striker Andriy Voronin.

Italy went with a likely 4-4-1-1 lineup, with Totti behind lone striker Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino on the bench. Andrea Barzagli started his first World Cup game in defense, filling in for injured Alessandro Nesta and suspended Marco Materazzi.

Totti came on as a substitute late in the second-round game against Australia and scored the only goal in the final minute of the match. Coach Marcello Lippi had sidelined him because he looked fatigued in the last first-round match against the Czech Republic.

On Friday, he provided two assists.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)