Italy 3-2 Cyprus: Incredible Late Gliardino Hat-trick Stuns Cyprus
Italy completed their qualification programme for the 2010 World Cup with a victory over Cyprus in Parma, as Alberto Gilardino scored an incredible hat-trick in the last 13 minutes as the Azzurri overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.
The Azzurri had clinched their place at next year’s finals in South Africa following their dramatic 2-2 draw in Ireland on Saturday night.
Already assured of top spot in Group 8, Italy were looking to finish their campaign on a high but coach Marcello Lippi changed the entire team from Dublin. The hero from Croke Park, Alberto Gilardino, led a three pronged attack featuring Fabio Quagliarella and Giuseppe Rossi. Rino Gattuso returned in midfield, as did captain Fabio Cannavaro in defence after his suspension. Salvatore Bocchetti made his full debut at left back.
Cyprus had been arguably the most entertaining team of Group 8, having scored 12 goals and conceded 13. The East Mediterraneans were in confident mood after thrashing Bulgaria 4-1 at the weekend. Ioannis Okkas and Elias Charalambous returned from bans.
Cyprus had a fast start and could have taken the lead after just 90 seconds as Okkas lifted the ball over the bar following Efstathios Aloneftis’ superb cross. Quagliarella then tested Sofronis Avgousti down the other end.
On 12 minutes Cyprus took a deserved lead through star man Okkas. The veteran hitman shot clinically into the bottom corner after Constantin Makridis had skinned Alessandro Gamberini.
It should have been 2-0 five minutes later as Okkas sliced wide when clean through.
Italy created their first real chance on 19 minutes as Davide Santon embarked on a stunning solo run before cutting back for Simone Pepe, who sliced horrifically over.
The Azzurri started to up the tempo approaching the half-hour mark. Gaetano D’Agostino curled a free kick just wide, while Pepe sliced horribly again when put put through.
Paraskevas Christou limped off for Cyprus and had to be replaced by Marinos Satsias, but there was little incident for the remainder of a first half that the away side deservedly led at the end of.
Italy made two changes at the break as Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio Di Natale replaced Pepe and Rossi respectively.
Incredibly, though, Cyprus made it 2-0 just two minutes into the second half as a poor clearance from Gamberini fell to Chrysis Michael, who slammed a brilliant first-time volley into the bottom corner.
Italy tried to react as Gattuso forced a save out of Avgousti, but they were struggling to create anything of note.
Instead it was the away side who threatened a third, only for Cannavaro to make two crucial interventions.
Lippi made his final change midway through the half as Daniele De Rossi came on for D’Agostino.
On 69 minutes Italy missed a great chance to halve the deficit as Di Natale raced through on goal, but his finish was weak and straight at Avgousti.
Avgousti then made a great save from De Rossi’s header as Italy tried desperately to avoid humiliation. The goalkeeper also made an acrobatic stop from another Di Natale effort.
Finally, Italy grabbed a goal with 12 minutes remaining. Camoranesi’s cross from the right was nodded expertly into the far corner by Gilardino.
Incredibly, two minutes later Italy equalised. Gilardino was again the scorer as he turned the ball in from two yards out from another right-wing cross.
Cyprus were shaking, but they almost regained their lead as Marchetti produced a superb save to turn Charalambides’ drive around the post.
Italy poured forward looking for the winner, and got it as Gilardino completed his hat-trick in injury time, sliding the ball over the line after Quagliarella’s initial shot.
This result means that group winners Italy end their qualifying campaign unbeaten with seven wins and three draws from 10 games. Cyprus, meanwhile, finish in fourth place with 9 points.