. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Casiraghi's Dream Game Spells Russian Defeat

LIVERPOOL, England -- As a boy, Pierluigi Casiraghi used to watch Liverpool play at Anfield.


He came to the famous soccer field for the first time Tuesday and had a dream game, scoring both goals in Italy's 2-1 victory over Russia.


The goals gave Italy three points in Group C of the European Championship, same as Germany after its 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday. The clash between the two top Euro 96 favorites next Wednesday is likely to decide the winner of the group.


"When I was a boy, I used to watch on television Liverpool play at Anfield," Casiraghi said. "To come here and score two goals, it's just great."


The 27-year-old Lazio striker justified his manager's selection as a starter over the Juventus star Fabrizio Ravanelli.


In a high-quality game before 35,120 fans, Casiraghi struck in the fourth and 52nd minutes.


Ilya Tsimbalar replied for Russia in the 21st minute, and by halftime his team looked as if it was taking control with a well-constructed passing game.


But Italy raised its game, went for a more attacking approach after the break and had the chance to win by three or four goals in the best game of the championship so far.


"We were afraid in the first half; we suffered. Russia played a game of high standard," said Italy's manager Arrigo Sacchi. "But in the second half, our game improved and we created a lot of chances."


The Italians went ahead after just four minutes when a sloppy clearance by goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov went straight to Angelo Di Livio only 30 meters out.


He volleyed the ball quickly to the unmarked Casiraghi, who had plenty of space to fire a low, right-footed shot inside the left post, with Cherchesov powerless to stop it.


"The most astonishing thing is that our most experienced players made some bad mistakes. And they made them when they were not under pressure," said Russian coach Oleg Romantsev.


The equalizer came in the 21st minute and had an element of good fortune, even though the Russians were rewarded for having so many players forward.


Viktor Onopko, 30 meters from goal, played the ball into Valery Karpin, whose shot was blocked by Luigi Apolloni.


The ball broke kindly to overlapping Tsimbalar, who had only goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi to beat. Tsimbalar powered the ball past the keeper from 8 meters with an angled shot.


The game became a fascinating tactical battle, with the Italians dropping deep whenever the Russians had the ball, yet pushing up their defenders to crowd the middle of the field and also playing a well-worked offside trap.


The Italians sent in veteran Roberto Donadoni, who plays major-league soccer for the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, for the disappointing Allessandro Del Piero at the break, and the second half was only 50 seconds old when his team almost regained the lead.


Defender Roberto Mussi broke down the right and sent over a low cross. Casiraghi, with his back to goal, opted to try to score with a short-range, back-heeled shot, and Cherchesov was beaten as he watched the ball roll past the post.


But six minutes later the second goal came.


With the Italians attacking successfully down the right, Di Livio played a short pass inside to Zola. Instead of shooting from just outside the area, the talented Parma forward slipped a pass to Casiraghi, who shot between Cherchesov and the right-hand post.


"Casiraghi was decisive today. The understanding between our forwards worked well today. When a system starts to work, then individuals can come in and out," Sacchi said.


Ravanelli replaced Casiraghi 11 minutes from the end and wasted two good opportunities, as Zola fired the attack of the 1994 World Cup runners-up.


The game was a minute into injury time when Russian substitute Igor Dobrovolsky came close to scoring a late equalizer, moving skillfully into a good position but shooting wide from the edge of the area.


"We knew that we had to start well, because if we didn't win we would have been in danger of going home early," said Italian captain Paolo Maldini.


"The Russians were really tough, but we had a great second half."