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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chelsea's Zola Stuns England in Wembley Loss

LONDON -- Italy took a huge step toward next year's World Cup finals in France with a memorable 1-0 win over England in a fiercely-contested Group 2 qualifier at Wembley Stadium.


The only goal of an evenly-balanced match Wednesday came after 19 minutes when Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola cracked the ball past England's reserve goalkeeper Ian Walker after a 50-meter pass from Alessandro Costacurta split the English defense.


England, which had not lost any of its 28 home qualifiers in more than 40 years, had 18 scoring attempts but could find no way past an inspired Angelo Peruzzi in the Italian goal, or a superbly-marshalled defense that at times featured five, six or even seven men.


When England did get through, Peruzzi foiled it with some acrobatic saves and brave keeping, although he was lucky to escape with his one mistake, when Matt Le Tissier headed wide of an open goal after the Juventus keeper missed a cross 10 meters out.


Italy joins England with nine points at the head of the group, but has played three matches, one less than coach Glenn Hoddle's men.


If the Italians avoid defeat against England in Rome in the return fixture in October, they will almost certainly take the sole automatic qualifying berth for France, leaving England and probably Poland to battle it out for a place in the play-offs.


The match was a tactical victory for Italy's new coach Cesare Maldini, who took over from the unpopular Arrigo Sacchi last month.


Maldini praised his players for the discipline and commitment they showed.


"It was a great game, we played as we planned and got a great result against a great team. My deepest compliments to my players, they were very good."


His team soaked up all of the home side's early pressure, then hit England on the break with one of its few clear-cut scoring chances.


Parma defender Fabio Cannavaro, just 23 and winning only his second cap, almost totally marked Alan Shearer out of the game, while Demetrio Albertini dictated much of the pace of the game whenever Italy had possession.


England, which had been badly hit by injuries in the build-up to the match, settled first and looked the more threatening team in the opening stages, with Steve McManaman creating the first scoring opportunity after seven minutes when he wriggled past two challenges before sending a powerful shot straight at Peruzzi.


The next chance also fell to England but Le Tissier needed too much time on the ball before seeing his shot blocked, and within seconds the Italians launched a blistering counter-attack which ended with Pierluigi Casiraghi setting Zola up for a shot. The Chelsea forward sent his shot well wide of Walker's goal.


But two minutes later Zola made no mistake when his right-footed shot flew past Walker at his near post.


Zola caused the Tottenham keeper, winning his third cap but making his first start in place of the injured David Seaman, more problems in the 26th minute when he thundered in a 20-meter shot that Walker could not hold and pushed away for a corner.


England hammered away at the Italian goal for much of the second half, and Graham Le Saux was desperately unlucky not to score with a 35-meter free kick that seemed goalbound before Peruzzi palmed the ball over the bar.


Hoddle gambled by selecting the mercurial Le Tissier to create the chances, but the man from Guernsey had a fitful game and England actually looked more dangerous in attack when Shearer's Newcastle team mate Les Ferdinand replaced Le Tissier after 61 minutes, although he, too, could not ultimately find the way to the goal.