Italy Beat Ukraine To Boost Qualifying Hopes

ROME, Italy -- Italy boosted their chances of qualifying for the 2008 European championships with a hard-fought 2-0 win against Ukraine.

Italian forward Luca Toni celebrates after scoring against Ukraine during their Euro2008 qualifying Group B football match at Rome's Olympic stadium.

The pressure was on the world champions after taking just one point from their first two Group B matches against Lithuania and France.

But they rose to the challenge with a precious victory over the stubborn Ukrainians who held out until the 70th minute at the Olympic stadium.

Massimo Oddo broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after Andrei Rusol had pulled back Luca Toni in the box.

And Toni netted himself in the 79th minute with a rising drive after being put through by substitute Antonio Di Natale.

Italy's win was far from easy though, and they were indebted to their keeper Gianluigi Buffon for a string of fine saves.

Victory for the Italians against the team they defeated in the World Cup quarter-finals tasted even sweeter following France's shock 1-0 defeat away to Scotland.

It was also Italy's first win under Roberto Donadoni since he replaced Marcello Lippi shortly after the World Cup.

Italy's victory left them on four points, five adrift of leaders Scotland and two behind World Cup final opponents France.

Marco Materazzi returned for Italy after completing a two-match suspension following his spat with Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final, while Vincenzo Iaquinta was a surprise choice in a three-man attack alongside Alessandro Del Piero and Toni.

The most notable absentee for Ukraine was their star striker Andrei Shevchenko. The Chelsea forward, who spent seven years in Italy with AC Milan, was struck by a virus.

Despite his absence, Ukraine started brightly with Anatoly Timoshchuk testing Buffon with a low drive 20 yards in the fourth minute.

Buffon was made to work harder two minutes later as Ukraine nearly snatched an early lead.

Andrei Vorobei crossed from the left to the back post and Oleg Gusev escaped his marker to fire an angled shot towards goal, which the Italy keeper palmed away.

Del Piero sent a half volley over the bar after linking up cleverly with Andrea Pirlo, before Toni came within inches of putting Italy ahead.

Oddo crossed from the right flank for the lanky Fiorentina marksman whose flicked header was fingertipped away by Alexander Shovkovsky.

Toni's dipping volley sailed narrowly over the bar as Italy ended the half on top.

A last ditch tackle by Sergei Nazarenko saved Ukraine when Iaquinta lined up a shot on goal shortly after the restart, before Timoshchuk stung Buffon's palms with a fierce drive.

Shovkovsky then denied Iaquinta with a one-handed reflex save, while at the other end Buffon did well to keep out substitute Maxi Kalinichenko's curling free-kick.

Italy finally made the breakthrough 20 minutes from time when Rusol tugged Toni's shirt as he reached for a cross and Oddo coolly converted the resulting penalty.

Toni's emphatic finish nine minutes later ensured no way back for Ukraine and put Italy's qualifying campaign back on track after a worrying start.

Source: AFP