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Memories Of Italy Vs Chile (France 98)

Memories Of Italy Vs Chile (France 98)

The year was 1998 and by then I was already living in Poland with my wife and our first and so far only child. Our daughter, Paullina in fact having been born in that very year. Life was good or so it seems that way as I look back on the time that was before the present recession. As for Italy, it had been four years since USA 94 and that day on which I saw them lose in the final to Brazil when Baggio's penalty sailed over the crossbar to hand Brazil their fourth world cup title while Italy was left with their second defeat in a world cup final.
Tragic had that day been to see Italy lose another final to Brazil yet I knew even then that there would be other world cups for Italy to prove that they could win another title. As for Italy, in the mean time they did manage to qualify to the England 96 European Championship; where they were eliminated in the first round yet would have gone on to the quarterfinals if the issue had been decided by goal differential instead of head to headpetition. It being a case of Italy and the Czech Republic both having 4 points with Italy having the better goal average yet it was the Czech Republic who had beaten Italy by a score of 2-1 in their head to head match up. This meaning that it was the Czech Republic who finished 2nd in the group while Italy finished 3rd which meant that Italy would be going home after the first round.
Of course, it was odd that the head to head tie-breaker was used first instead of the usual goal average to decide which team progressed to the next round yet such was the way it was planned. Italy having scored three goals while also having conceded the same amount while the Czech Republic had managed to score five while their opponents had scored six against them yet this meant nothing to Italy since head to headpetition (contrary to other tournaments) took priority over goal average.
Italy had not qualified past the first round in England 96 yet at least they had qualified which was more than could be said for them in Sweden 92; where they had even failed to do so much. I however was not overly disappointed at Italy's not having gone beyond the first round yet it was sad to see Italy go out in the first round even if they were basically eliminated by the team (Czech Republic) which came in second while they did manage a draw against Germany; who were the eventual winners of the tournament.
Of course many in Italy as is always the case when Italy failed to qualify, blamed their head coach who back then was Arrigo Sacchi. It being he and nobody else who chose to go to Euro 96 without Roberto Baggio and who in all honesty didmit tactical errors against the Czech Republic; specially after loosing a player to a red card. Of course much can be blamed on Sacchi but in all honesty it was not his fault that Zola missed a penalty against Germany which not only would have given them the victory but qualification to the next round but unfortunately it was not to be.
After Euro 96, Italy while still under the guidance of Sacchi and without Roberto Baggio struggled to qualify to France 98 and in fact came in second in their group which meant that could not qualify directly but would have to face Russia for the right to play in the world cup. Fortunately however Arrigo Sacchi was dismissed as head coach during the qualifying round to France 98 though in the opinion of many an Italian; he should have been fired after his dismal failure at Euro 96. Cesare Maldini (father of Paolo Maldini) in fact being the man who replaced Arrigo Sacchi as head coach which instantly meant the return of Roberto Baggio.
Italy however in spite of all their problems and much to the delight of my many Italian friends as well as my own, did go on to qualify to France 98 after tying 1-1 against Russia in Russia and then defeating them in Italy by a score of 1-0. All of which making the thought grand that I was going to be seeing Italy once again in a world cup though in all truth; the possibility of seeing Italy eliminated before the start of the tournament was never one which in realistically envisioned. Italy, only once failing to qualify to a world cup yet that was back in 1958 for what was the world cup in Sweden.
Naturally with four years having gone by since the last world cup, some of Italy's players such as Baressi had retired from the national team yet some new players like Vieri and Del Piero hade along. Del Piero being a good player yet not really on the level of Baggio though he did have the advantage of being younger. This creating a problem in the national team much like it had been back in Mexico 70 between Rivera and Mazzola. It being a most difficult task for Maldini to chose; once and for all who should be the starter.
For France 98, Italy was placed in a group along side Chile, Cameroon and Austria yet unlike in the previous world cup; Italy would have to finish in the top two. As third place would no longer be good enough to qualify to the next round. This however did not worry me as I was almost sure that Italy could at least qualify to the next round and if not in first place than in second place but they would go on.
As for their first match, it would be against Chile who guided by their star forwards Salas and Zamorano had managed to qualify for a world cup for the first time since 82 yet had not won a world cup match since 62. I for my part, did hope they would win their first match since 62 though naturally did not want them to break their streak against Italy. Regarding previous match ups between Italy and Chile, it was in 62 that they met for the first time in a match which would not be remembered so much for Chile beating us by 2-0 but for being perhaps the dirtiest game ever played in the history of the world cup. This a match which saw a Chilean player break an Italian players nose with a right hook right in front of the referee; who did not even bother to eject this Chilean player.
Italy and Chile went on to met in England 66 where Italy took a measure of revenge against their South American rivals yet that match proved to have little significance as both Chile and Italy failed to progress beyond the first round. The stage however was set for Italy to take on Chile in their first match at France 98 in what would be their third world cup match up. I for my part felt the excitement as I waited for the world cup to start and as for that particular match; I chose to watch it in a bar-restaurant in Warsaw called "Champions". This being 3 years before San Lorenzo opened.
It was as I heard the Italian national anthem and saw our team that I again felt the enthusiasm of a world cup and even started to believe; once again that Italy could win another title. After all they had been so close four years earlier that I thought to myself; why would it not be possible for them to win it all in this world cup? Specially with players the likes of Roberto Baggio, (still young at 30), Dino Baggio, Nesta, Cannavaro Vieri, Maldini and a fine goal keeper like Pagliuca; who had made so many a great save in the last world cup. Italy was ready for the challenge as was I and as the game started; I with my wife just sat back to cheer Italy on to their first victory in France 98.
The game started after the national anthems were played as is the tradition in international football and it was as things got under way that I really felt that this was a world cup match. There being that special something in the atmosphere of this place and though there not any Italian supporters about me or Chilean for that matter; there was still a sense of great enthusiasm for the match. I for my part was feeling the nervous along with the rush of adrenaline that goes through many a fan before the start of a world cup match and as I looked at the large TV screen; the first thing I noticed was that Italy would be all in white for this encounter. This, naturally breaking with the tradition of their usual blue shirts and white shorts but for what concerned me; it made little difference though I like most Italian fans did prefer to see the standard uniform. Regarding Italy's uniform, I not being superstitious can not claim to have seen this as an omen of any kind yet it did take me some time to adjust my sight to the new Jersey.
It was however from the start of the game that Chile went forward and basically controlled the midfield while Italy sat back and waited for that chance to catch the Chilean defense off their guard. Chile during the first few minutes of the game attacked and basically held Italy in their own half yet despite this did not manage to seriously threaten Pagliuca's goal. Italy's defense with man to man marking being solid enough or at least in this part of the match to control Zamorano and Salas. It being Cannavaro's job to mark Salas while Maldini, Costa Curta and Nesta completed Italy's defense. As for Salas, he was the one who was due to start playing in Italy the following season for Lazio while Zamorano was already playing for Inter Milan.
The 9 minute mark came when on a Chilean attack Zamorano passed the ball to Salas whose pass was intercepted by Nesta. It being this Italian defender whose forward long pass was ideal not only to find Baggio but to find the whole of the Chilean defense out of place. It being Baggio who with a masterful touch simply and with almost no effort flicked the ball to Vieri; who had no trouble what so ever in giving Italy a 1-0 lead. It was a goal and how did I ever celebrate with a shout to call attention on to myself from those around me, who were neutral observers yet it was clear that I was not or at least thus did my celebrating Italy's goal and my Italian blue shirt suggest. It had been a great goal and how lovely it was to celebrate an Italian goal in a world cup. Specially since the last time I had done so was in that semifinal match against Bulgaria which I saw played live at Giant's Stadium in USA 94. It had been a long time yet the joy of screaming out goals was back as if it had been just waiting for that glorious moment which came when Vieri; with all the calmness in the world simply put the ball past Chile's goalkeeper to give us a 1-0. As for Roberto Baggio's pass, well this could not have been any more on target or beautifully delivered. Baggio's pass being one which Vieri neither had to speed up for or slow down. As it was just in the right place with the perfect pace on the ball that Chile's defenders were not able to reach while Vieri was able to take in his stride and basically one time in to the back of the Chilean net.
A lovely goal yet I also did think of my friends in Chile whom I had spent so many delightful times with during my stay in their lovely country. Specially a certain young man of 8 (whose mother had rented me a room in her apartment not far from Santiago's "Estadio Nacional") who not only played football but was a fan of both Colo-Colo and Chile's national team. Of course, I was glad for Italy but felt slightly sad for them yet this was a world cup and had Chile taken the lead; I doubt their sorrow for my feelings would have depressed them too much. As a personal note, I remember talking to this particular young man about Roberto Baggio back in 92 and telling him that he would probably lead Italy to the final in the next world cup.
Italy was winning and half time was approaching yet just as I was starting to think Italy would take its lead in to the half time break; Chile got a corner. It being off this corner that Zamorano got up high, beating his man and getting a header to Acuna who found Salas; who beat Cannavaro to blast the ball just 2 meters from Italy's goal; past Pagliuca and in to the net to give Chile a perhaps well deserved equalizer. Thus making the score 1-1 at half time.
Over all it had not been a bad half for Italy. They were not wining true but were not loosing either and if they had just held out a bit longer, would have gone in to the half time break up by a goal yet things could have also been worse. Chile after all had out played Italy yet despite everything Italy was not doing badly and to their credit was playing a team which had recently beaten England by 2-0 at Wembley. For me, it was a chance to see Italy back in the world cup with chances to progress further and what a joy it was just to feel that atmosphere of the big games even if I was not at the stadium like I had been four years earlier when Italy faced Ireland in their opening match.
Naturally, being in a bar we ordered drinks and food which were not bad and made the day; all the more enjoyable or at least while the intermission lasted. The second half got under way with Chile having been given a fresh breath of air as they went forward and it did not take any longer then 5 minutes for Salas to score his second goal of the game; along with the one which gave Chile a 2-1 lead. It being Salas, who some how managed to out jump the taller Cannavaro and put the ball in a place were Pagliuca could only dive for it but not get a hand on as it went past him and in to the back of the net.
Italy was down but not out as time still remained that they might have more than one occasion to tie up the game but this was defiantly not going to be an easy game. Chile looked solid and on top of that had the lead which meant that defensive minded Cesare Maldini was going to have to go forward. I must admit to being tense during these moments as it appeared that Italy not only had squandered a 1 goal lead in 5 minutes but were on their way to loosing their second consecutive opening match in a world cup.
Italy however did go forward yet Chile with the lead defended well and even managed to create opportunities of their own while Italy much like they had done against Ireland four years earlier; was unable to really create clear scoring opportunities. This promoting Cesare Maldini to take out Di Matteo (who in all truth had not done all that much) whom he replaced with Di Biagio. Di Biagio being an attacking midfielder who was brought in to give Italy much needed offense.
It was at the 13 minute mark of the second half that R. Baggio came ever so close to equalizing when Chile's defense was slow to react to a pass yet unfortunately for Italy; their goalkeeper Tapia managed toe off his line just as the right moment. How close it was yet the score remained with Italy on its loosing side. I must confess that I did think of my friends in Chile whom I had spent time with and how they must be watching the game yet they enjoying what they were seeing while I was living it with fear that Italy would not only not get an equalizer but perhaps even go down by another goal.
Italy did increase the tempo of the game which did cause some difficulty for Chile's defense, who under such pressure tended to not only lose their order but make mistakes. Italy at this point, desperate to put pressure on though perhaps without real quality football while Chile with South American flair tried to hold on to the ball and make Italy go after them while they looked for openings in Italy's defense.
Italy then 18 minutes in to the second half with intentions of getting more offense made another substitution when Chiesa (forward) came in for Di Livio (midfielder); who apart from not having a particularly good game had already received a yellow card. Italy was going to be playing with two forwards with Baggio playing slightly behind them. Chiesa for his part, had been added to the team at the last minute in place of the injured Ravanelli. This change on the Italian team being similar to the one made in Brazil, who was also forced to replace Romario at the last minute while England was forced to do likewise with Gascoigne.
Italy did go forward yet Chile was able to hold their own as the minutes went by with tremendous anxiety for Italy and their supports as the possibility of loosing loomed larger. Cesare Maldini then at the 26 mark of the second half brought in Inzaghi in place of Vieri, who was clearly tired and had ceased to surprise the Chilean defense. Italy was definitely going for all the offense they could yet in all truth Italy was not playing at their best while Chile had grown in confidence that they could beat the three time world champion.
It was not long however after Inzaghi came on that the rainmenced as the wind also started to blow hard on what in fact was a summer day in France. This making it more difficult for Italy, whose obligation it was to go forward and get the equalizer while Chile could just lean back and wait for the final whistle in order to get their first win in a world cup since 62 (world cup held in Chile) and what would have also been their first world cup win outside of Chile since 50. A long time had they waited to win a match in a world cup and what a better time for it toe than against the team who had been runners up in the last world cup apart from being a three time world champion.
Italy was trying yet their efforts did not seem to be bringing them closer to a goal when at the 39 minute mark of the game; the referee made a most controversial call. It being Roberto Baggio who sent in a ball from one meter outside the penalty box which he chipped in to the box; almost with the sole intension of having the ball hit a Chilean player in the hand; who had left his arm slightly raised. It being a case of perhaps Baggio trying to send the ball in to the middle of the Chilean penalty box or perhaps just trying to deliberately hit Fuentes's hand in order to get a penalty.
Naturally, even if Baggio had tried to hit Fuentes's hand it would not have been against the rules of the game yet the ball did hit this Chilean defender in the hand which was given as a penalty. Rightly so I would say since the rule is clear with regards to such matters that when ever the ball hits a player in the hand, who has his arms raised beyond his body; then a hand ball shall be given. This being the rule of the game though perhaps for Fuentes and Chile it was heartbreaking since there was clearly no intention or at least none which was visible on his part to touch the ball yet this did not matter. For in the letter of the law if not the spirit, his had been a hand ball since the ball had unfortunately caught his hand while his arm was raised.
After some protests it was decided that R. Baggio should take the penalty for Italy. Roberto Baggio once again in front of the ball to take a penalty much like it had been four years ago when his miss had to some extent given Brazil their fourth world cup. It being Roberto Baggio, whose career had suffered so much because of that miss yet here he was; once again with the responsibility of turning a penalty in to a goal. Naturally, this was not a final like it had been against Brazil but none the less it was still a moment of high anxiety as thoughts of what had happened four years earlier; had to have been on the mind of most if not every Italian fan who had watched that perhaps most famous missed penalty in the history of football. Of course there was also the matter of scoring in order to tie up the game and at least obtain a point from this match.
Added to this one could only imagine was what Baggio must have been feeling when he set up to take the penalty kick specially after his miss in the previous world cup. Many perhaps even having their doubts yet it was going to be Baggio and while many felt it should not have been a penalty, given that Fuentes's hand ball to a large extent was not apparently intentional; the fact remained that this was still a most stressful moment for Italy along with all their supporters. Baggio took his run and with more accuracy and spin placed the ball low and in the corner where in fact Tapia got a hand on his shot but not with enough force to keep it from going in. A goal and what a scream to celebrate it as to make many stare at me in this public place yet this scarcely mattered; as Italy had tied the game and Baggio had to a large extent gotten the monkey of his back even if it had not been in another final. Italy 2, Chile 2 thus did the score read and thus did it end and though many around claimed it was not really a penalty or perhaps in the spirit of the rule it should not have been; the fact remains that it was and Italy had gotten a well earned point.
Chile to their credit had played very well and perhaps deserved to win but Italy on other hand had proven that they could at least get a draw; despite not being at their best. The rest of the game was played with both teams doing some attacking but neither sideing really all that close to what would have been a third goal. The game ending at two a piece.
Italy had a point and I was thankful as it could have easily been a defeat. Of course it also could have been a victory if Salas had not scored in the last second of the first half but such is the game of football. I was glad and though not completely happy, at least I could say that Italy had taken a step to qualifying and had not played badly and had gotten a positive result against what perhaps was a very underrated team. Of course, I was also content that Italy had not lost their first match like they had four years earlier in USA 94 and also took solace in knowing that Italy was and had always been a slow starter in world cups. All of which allowing me to see that Italy had a great team which simply had not played up to their full capabilities which had managed a draw against a solid team whose players had been inspired. Roberto Baggio's goal had only added to the sensations that Italy was on their way to having another solid world cup and that their performances could only improve after this game.
As for my friends in Chile though I am sure they would more than likely tell me that they were robbed yet I in all honesty feel that it was a penalty since the ball was handled in the penalty box and where we can argue till infinity weather or not it should have been given as a penalty; the fact remains that the ball did touch Fuentes's hand. I also would say or ask the people of Chile if the situation had been reversed and the ball had touched an Italian hand in the penalty box; would they not have asked for a penalty? Well this I can not answer with intelligence yet I can speculate that they would have wanted a penalty as well and would have been eager to take it.

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