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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solid Italians Close In on Quarterfinal Berth




BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Goals from Francesco Totti and Stefano Fiore allowed Italy to cruise to a 2-0 victory over co-host Belgium intheir Euro 2000 Group B match Wednesday.


Totti gave the Italians a dream start with a goal from a diving header after just six minutes.


The Italians, helped by a superb display from goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, then soaked up almost an hour of Belgian pressure before Fiore played a one-two with Filippo Inzaghi and swept a right-foot shot past Belgian goalkeeper Filip De Wilde in the 65th minute.


The result leaves the Italians with six points from their opening two matches and virtually assures them a place in the quarterfinals.


Belgium, which won its opening match 2-1 against Sweden, will have to compete with Sweden and Turkey for the group's second last-eight berth. The latter were to play Thursday in Eindhoven.


The Italians had started the evening by laying flowers at the foot of the stand where 39 fans, 31 of them from Italy, were killed in the Heysel disaster of 1985.


This was Italy's first match in the since-renovated and renamed stadium.


Dino Zoff's side made an explosive start to the match. Paolo Maldini and Inzaghi combined to force two reflex saves out of De Wilde in the space of a few seconds before Totti put the Azzurri ahead.


Demetri Albertini swung in a cross from the Italian right and the Roma forward met it with a brave stooping header.


Three minutes later the Belgians came close to an equalizer when Bart Goor fired in a rasping long-range shot that Toldo tipped on to his crossbar.


The Belgians, roared on by most of the 45,000-strong crowd, dominated possession for much of the half but failed to create clear goalscoring chances.


Marc Wilmots and Yves Vandehaeghe proved more than a match for Albertini and Antonio Conte in the center of midfield, and Gert Verheyen found plenty of space on the Belgian right.


But the Italians are past masters at defending a one-goal lead and withstood the pressure.


They sat back at the start of the second half too before stinging the Belgians with Fiore's brilliant second.


Second-half substitute Marco Delvecchio had the ball in the back of the net in the 79th minute but was judged to have pushed his marker before he scored.


Italy's performance fully vindicated Zoff's decision to play Totti as an out-and-out forward with Fiore behind him. Both players have emerged only over the past six months.


Belgium will point to its dominance of possession and greater number of shots on goal to suggest it can still progress in the tournament.


But Toldo was in fine form f in the 64th minute he did extremely well to tip a free kick from Luc Nilis round his post f and the Italian defense was only rarely exposed.


This was Italy's first victory over Belgium in 23 years.


Belgium coach Robert Waseige admitted after the game that his side had been defeated by superior opposition.


"I've got nothing to reproach my team for. I don't mind losing to a team that is better than we are. I think the victory was deserved," he said.


"Italy were once again so well-organized and ambitious and on this form it would be difficult for anyone to beat them. I'm really impressed by Italy."


Waseige said he was confident his players could lift themselves for their final group match against Turkey next Monday, when victory would virtually assure them of a place in the quarterfinals.


"I hope they can recover both mentally and physically by next week. I'm confident we can beat Turkey. Italy were so strong today no one could have beaten them."


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Group B


Team P W D L F A Pts


Italy 2 2 0 0 4 1 6


Belgium 2 1 0 1 2 3 3


Turkey 1 0 0 1 1 2 0


Sweden 1 0 0 1 1 2 0


Belgium 0, Italy 2


Thursday, June 15


Sweden vs. Turkey, 10:45 p.m.


Monday, June 19


Turkey vs. Belgium, 10:45 p.m.


Italy vs. Sweden, 10:45 p.m.