Everything went well for Italy as it cantered to a 3-0 victory over Ukraine in the cool of Friday night. It will face Germany in the last four, after the host ran for 120 hard minutes in the afternoon heat of Berlin before beating Argentina in a shootout.
Italy took an early lead when Gianluca Zambrotta scored in the sixth minute.
In the past, Italian teams have made trouble for themselves by obsessively defending one-goal leads.
On Friday, the Italians, true to their traditions, relaxed after the goal. Yet when Ukraine began to threaten in the second half, the Italians responded in ruthless style, finishing off their foes with the two goals by Toni.
Italy, depleted by injury and suspensions, made three changes for the game.
With Alessandro Nesta hurt and his replacement, Marco Materazzi, suspended after a red card in the last game, against Australia, Andrea Barzagli, who had played only one minute in the tournament, started at center back.
Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Del Piero, who had started against Australia, made way for Totti and Mauro Camoranesi. Totti, who is coming back after breaking an ankle, had finished the previous game in every sense, smashing the winning penalty into Australia's net with the last kick of regulation time.
Daniele De Rossi was also absent, serving the third game of a four-match suspension for his red card against the United States.
Italian preparations for the match took place under the cloud of investigations into match-fixing in Italy, which could relegate the clubs of half of Coach Lippi's squad.
Also, Gianluca Pessotto, a former Italy international recently appointed an official at one of those clubs, Juventus, was in intensive care after an apparent suicide attempt.
Lippi did not take well to the suggestion at a press conference before the game that facing Australia, then Ukraine represented good fortune.
"I'd like to say something about all this talk that we have been lucky," he said. "We had Francesco Totti ruled out for three months with injury. On top of that, we have to deal with the unprecedented mess happening in Italy.
"Yeah, you can say I have been really lucky."
Yet it quickly became clear that fortune had handed Italy an ideal opponent. After four minutes, Camoranesi ran unopposed through the heart of the Ukrainian midfield before shooting, wide, from the edge of penalty area.
Two minutes later, Totti made his first telling contribution. He dropped back to collect a pass from Zambrotta, dragging defenders with him. Totti's little back heel popped the ball into Zambrotta's path. He surged into the void in front of the Ukrainian penalty area.
From 20 meters, or about 65 feet, he hit a ferocious low drive. Oleksandr Shovkovskyi, the Ukrainian goalkeeper, reached the ball but could only deflect it into the corner of his goal.
Ukraine reached this stage on penalties after playing 120 minutes of scoreless soccer against Switzerland.
Afterward, Oleg Blokhin, the Ukraine coach, made it clear that he had been aiming for penalties again.
"Had we drawn 0-0, the Italians would have been under more pressure," he said.
Instead he was quickly forced to turn to Plan B.
After Vyacheslav Sviderskyi, a defender, received a yellow card in the 16th minute, Blokhin quickly yanked him off.
"I knew if I did not act we would have 10 men on the field," Blokhin said.
But he replaced the defender with an attacker, Andriy Vorobey.
Despite the tactical shift. Italy was in control for the rest of the half. It restricted Ukraine to long shots while occasionally summoning the energy to sashay stylishly forward.
The Ukrainians started the second half with more menace. The danger repeatedly came from high balls across the goal.
Andriy Gusin, unguarded just past the far post, met a cross with a downward header. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy's goalkeeper, sprawled to save. The ball and the goalie's head banged into the post almost simultaneously.
After 58 minutes, Buffon parried a powerful close range shot by Oleg Gusev. The ball rebounded to Maksym Kalinichenko 5 meters out. His shot was blocked on the line by Zambrotta.
"Those were two amazing saves on the part of Buffon," Lippi said.
Italy quickly responded to the mounting threat. Within a minute of Zambrotta's block, it had doubled its margin for error. After a free kick near the corner flag, Totti curled a ball into the goal mouth.
The Ukrainians, bent on attack, were caught shorthanded. Fabio Cannavaro, unmarked 5 meters out, missed the ball with his head. Toni, swooping between confused defenders 3 meters out, did not.
Two minutes later, another high ball caused Italy's defense problems, but again it escaped punishment as Gusin's header hit the crossbar.
Toni, who had waited 296 minutes for his first goal of the World Cup, needed to wait only 10 minutes for his second. Zambrotta wriggled past two defenders and curled the ball past Shovkovskyi. Again Toni, suddenly looking like a true goal predator, was 3 meters from an undefended net. This time he scored with his foot.
"The fact that Toni scored two goals was very important," Lippi said. "We were just waiting for that to happen. I said that to him this morning - you are going to score, maybe twice. That makes it easier."
The lead also allowed Lippi to pay attention to other egos in his squad. He brought on Massimo Oddo with 23 minutes to play. That means every Italian outfielder player has now appeared at this World Cup.
Lippi said that pleased him but that there were two goalkeepers who had not appeared and he hoped they would not.
Lippi called the victory "incredible." His opposite number also seemed satisfied with the result.
"I am not disappointed. I am totally satisfied," Blokhin said. "We have gone where no Ukrainian team has gone before. I must say the Italian team was a different class. We have different goals."
Lippi fended off questions about the semifinal with Germany in Dortmund on Tuesday.
"Let's enjoy this victory, work hard for three or four days, then we can think about the lineup that will play Germany."
Blokhin does not have to worry about the rest of this World Cup. He said he might not even watch the remaining games.
"I dreamed of my family last night," he said. "Maybe I'm tired and ready to go home."
Source: International Herald Tribune