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Pirlo breaks Scottish resistance

Saturday, 26 March 2005

By Paolo Menicucci at Giuseppe Meazza stadium

[1] Two wonderful free-kicks from Andrea Pirlo late in each half in Milan allowed Italy to stretch their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 5 lead to five points.

Pirlo's guile

[2] A depleted Scotland side, playing their first match under new manager Walter Smith, defended stoutly, but Pirlo's guile in his home stadium ensured Italy moved further clear of Slovenia and Norway, though both could narrow the gap when they play on Wednesday.

Contrasting formations

[3] Italy coach Marcello Lippi started with Mauro Camoranesi, Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano just behind Alberto Gilardino, while Marco Materazzi replaced the injured Alessandro Nesta in central defence and Giorgio Chiellini came in for suspended Gianluca Zambrotta as left-back. Scotland were without Darren Fletcher, James McFadden and Paul Dickov so Smith deployed Kenny Miller as a lone striker, while Gary Caldwell was the midfield anchorman in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Italy ahead

[4] The home side enjoyed most of the possession in the opening minutes but their first chance did not arrive until the 26th minute, when Pirlo's long ball found Cassano unmarked inside the box only for Robert Douglas to tip his shot over. Scotland continued to contain Italy, but ten minutes from the break Pirlo's superb curling set-piece from just outside the area gave him his second goal in an Azzurri shirt. Four minutes later the injured Douglas was replaced by Craig Gordon.

Scottish chances

[5] After the break, Scotland looked to equalise and went close when Gianluigi Buffon was forced to make a wonderful save to deny Nigel Quashie's shot after a Miller flick-on. Two minutes later Miller ran behind Italy's defensive line but his shot did not trouble Buffon.

Italy spurred

[6] Those scares spurred Italy into action, but despite taking control of the game they continued to find Scotland's back-line tough to break through. With the home players beginning to tire, Lippi opted to replace Totti with midfield player Daniele De Rossi as he looked to hold the 1-0 lead.

Victory sealed

[7] Five minutes from the final whistle, however, Pirlo scored with another spectacular free-kick from 20 metres out. Both these sides return to World Cup action on 4 June, Italy travelling to Norway and fifth-placed Scotland continuing their search for a first group win at home to bottom team Moldova. Before that Italy have a home Wednesday friendly with Iceland, for which Lippi has named a changed squad.

Andrea Pirlo was the two-goal hero