Azzurri bow out despite win
By Graeme Bailey
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Italy bowed out of Euro 2004 despite the fact they beat Bulgaria 2-1 in Guimaraes, meaning they finished third in Group D.
Denmark and Sweden finished 2-2 in Oporto - meaning an Italian win was immaterial.
The Azzurri will question what happened in the Estadio do Bessa, but their own shortcomings - which were on show for everyone to see at the Estadio Afonso D Henriques - were the reason behind their departure from the tournament.
Bulgaria took the lead on the stroke of half time when they were awarded a highly controversial penalty which Martin Petrov converted.
Simone Perrotta brought Italy back into the game after just three minutes of the second period and then Antonio Cassano won the game with a quality strike in the very last minute.
The Roma striker peeled away in ecstasy thinking he had sent his nation into the last eight - but little did he know that just moments earlier, Sweden had levelled their game which guaranteed a quarter final berth for both themselves and Denmark.
Italy only just edged a game which was a dour affair for the opening ten minutes and the first chance did not come until nearly a quarter of an hour of play.
It came through the ever impressive Petrov who tested Gianluigi Buffon from distance with a stinging left footed drive, which the Italian keeper could only parry wide.
Immediately the Italians broke and created their first opening and it should have seen the first goal.
Bernardo Corradi began the move with a sumptuous pass to Cassano on the right flank, the Roma starlet then waited before crossing to the back post for the Lazio front-man who volleyed brilliantly at goal - only for Zdravko Zdravkov to pull out a top class save to his right.
The ball then fell for Alessandro Del Piero just five yards out, but he could only fire wide of the post with the goal at his mercy.
Neither side was dominating and both seemed to struggle with the rain-soaked pitch - and chances were being limited to long-range efforts.
Gianluca Zambrotta was again looking like Italy's most positive player and he provided another good chance for Cassano, who flicked the ball on for Corradi - who got a good header on goal but Zdravkov claimed with relative ease.
Corradi - whose running troubled a largely static Bulgarian defence all evening - then got on the end of a terrific pass from Stefano Fiore, but he could not get the ball from out of his feet and wasted the chance.
Bulgaria were having some decent possession and pushed forward, mainly through Petrov on the left - who again tested Buffon from the edge of the area.
The Wolfsburg midfielder then tried to play the isolated Dimitar Berbatov through on goal, but the giant marksman could only fire an effort straight at Marco Materazzi.
Corradi and Cassano then combined to create a good chance for the latter, but he hooked the ball wide when he should have at least tested the keeper.
Italy looked settled, when Bulgaria won what can only be described as a questionable penalty as Petrov played the ball in the box towards Berbatov - who grappled with Materazzi and looked to be pulling the Italian, but referee Valentin Ivanov thought it was the other way and pointed to the spot.
Petrov was poised and made no mistake as he sent Buffon the wrong way to send his team 1-0 up at the interval - although Del Piero missed another good chance before the break - as his tournament continued to rumble on in uninspiring fashion.
The Italians came out knowing they were on the brink of bowing out of Euro 2004 - but within three minutes they had hauled themselves back into the match and possibly the tournament.
Again Zambrotta was the catalyst as he broke superbly down the left and powered into the area before pulling the ball back for Cassano who struck a vicious effort which cannoned of the bar and down - most of the Italians appealed for the goal, but luckily for them Perrotta continued into the six-yard box and poked home the ball after Zdravkov flapped.
Italy continued to push forward and soon introduced Christian Vieri - whose knee problem meant he could not start the game - for Corradi.
Andrea Pirlo saw an effort fizz past the post, before Del Piero again wasted a chance when well placed in the area.
Vieri then had his first contribution come via a header which sailed wide - but again should have at least tested Zdravkov.
Italy - like the weather - were now raining down on the Bulgaria goal, but still they could not find another breakthrough.
The lively Cassano missed a gilt-edged opportunity when he was found by Pirlo in the area, but he could not control the ball well enough and he could only fire into the arms of Zdravkov when he should have put his side ahead.
Bulgaria had become ragged, especially in defence, as they had lost the fluency their play enjoyed in the opening period.
The Azzurri were then furious when they were not awarded their own spot kick after Cassano was brought down on the edge of the area, only for referee Ivanov to award a goal kick.
Milen Petkov then deflected a ball wide in his own area after Zambrotta fired a goalbound effort into the area.
Marco Di Vaio was brought on as Italy switched to three defenders - desperately in search of the winner.
However, it was Bulgaria who then nearly added another when Berbatov hammered a 20-yard free kick at goal and only a great reflex save denied him.
Alessandro Nesta - who hs never scored for Italy - came close to breaking his duck, but his header was palmed over by Zdravkov.
In injury time, Cassano then got the goal his play deserved when he finished smartly on the turn from 18 yards and into the top corner giving Zdravkov no chance.
But it was all to be in vain - as the result which many Italians feared in the other game - 2-2 - became reality as Mattias Jonson slammed home Sweden's second just seconds before Cassano had made it 2-1.
Italy now return home unbeaten and with five points - the only team to record such a feat in European Championship history, and still go out.