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DiBiagio’s miss means France is in Cup semifinals.

By Paul Oberjuerge
San Bernardino County Sun

PARIS (Friday, July 3, 1998) -- France and Italy went eyeball to eyeball for 120 minutes and four rounds of penalty kicks in the World Cup quarterfinals today.

Then Italy blinked. Luigi DiBiagio hit the crossbar on the 10th and final penalty kick, allowing deserving France to win a shootout tiebreaker 4-3 after the teams played two hours of scoreless soccer at the Stade de France.

"I feel utterly wiped out," France coach Aime Jacquet said. "It takes the coolest heads to win penalty shootouts. We didn't lose our nerve."

Seizing up in penalties has become an Italian specialty, which made its timid, defense-first strategy all the more curious. Italy has exited three consecutive World Cups on shootouts. "The penalty shootout is kind of like a lottery," Italy coach Cesare Maldini conceded. "“It seems like we might be cursed."

The stadium exploded with cheers, and France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez leaped into his teammates arms after DiBiagio's shot banged off the woodwork. DiBiagio dropped to the ground at the penalty spot, grieving, and was consoled by teammates. "I'm very sorry," he said. "It's really hard to accept."

Italy lost 4-3 on penalty kicks against Argentina in the semifinals in 1990, 3-2 against Brazil in the championship match in 1994, and now to France in the quarterfinals. In each case, the last shot was taken by an Italian, and in each case it was a weak effort -- by Aldo Serena in 1990, Roberto Baggio in '94 and DiBiagio today.

"It's heart-breaking to lose in three World Cup competitions on penalties," Baggio said. "Nobody should be blamed for the missed penalties. You need a lot of courage to take them."

France, which has never reached the championship match, is in the semifinals for the first time since 1986, and faces the winner of the tomorrow’s Germany-Croatia match Wednesday at the Stade de France. "I'm very pleased we are in the semifinals, even if it was on penalties," Jacquet said. "In the end, the best team won."

France dominated, outshooting Italy by a stunning 24-7 margin. The French had 13 corner kicks to Italy's two. Italy came forward infrequently and cautiously, often leaving Christian Vieri, the tournament's co-leader in goals (with Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta) alone at forward. He rarely saw the ball, and when he did French defender Marcel Desailly was there to neutralize the big attacker.

Maldini denied his team lacked aggression, suggesting he played with three forwards. "You can look at the score at the end of regular time and see that nothing had gone wrong," he said. "It was nil-nil. We were in trouble a couple of times in the first half, but that was it. Our goalkeeper didn't have that much to do. France tried to attack, but they were never all that threatening."

France had numerous good chances in the early going as the midfield, led by Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit, dominated its Italian counterpart. The French seemed to win every ball in the air, and got to every loose ball first.

Petit, Christian Karembeu and Youri Djorkaefff all had excellent scoring opportunities. But after an hour, the French tired, and Italy rallied behind Roberto Baggio, a 67th-minute substitute. The veteran forward almost scored on a volley in the 80th minute.

"During about three-fourths of the match the French team remained extremely concentrated both tactically and strategically," Jacquet said. "But as the game went on the Italians came on, and you always fear a team with the technical skill of the Italians."

Maldini said the Italians "gave it all, down to the last drop of sweat. The French had home-field advantage. I repeat, I have nothing to apologize for."

Zidane, David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry and Laurent Blanc scored in the shootout for France. Blanc's shot broke a 3-3 tie. Bixente Lizarazu's second-round shot was saved by Gianluca Pagliuca, silencing the crowd of 80,000. But Italy's Demetrio Albertini immediately followed with an equally weak shot pushed away by Fabien Barthez, leaving the shootout score at 1-1.

Baggio, Alessandro Costacurta and Vieri scored for Italy.

Paul Oberjuerge writes for the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sun.

France 0, Italy 0 (France win 4-3 in penalty kicks)
in Paris

France -- Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu, Didier Deschamps, Emmanuel Petit, Youri Djorkaeff, Christian Karembeu (Thierry Henry 65), Zinedine Zidane, Stephane Guivarc'h (David Trezeguet 65).
Italy -- Gianluca Pagliuca, Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Bergomi, Fabio Cannavaro, Dino Baggio (Demetrio Albertini 53), Gianluca Pessotto (Angelo Di Livio 90), Luigi Di Biagio, Francesco Moriero, Alessandro Del Piero (Roberto Baggio 67), Christian Vieri.
Goals: none.
Shootout results: France - Zinedine Zidane (goal), Bixente Lizarazu (no goal), David Trezeguet (goal), Thierry Henry (goal), Laurent Blanc (goal). Italy - Roberto Baggio (goal), Demetrio Albertini (no goal), Alessandro Costacurta (goal), Christian Vieri (goal), Luigi Di Biagio (no goal).
Shots at goal: France 24, Italy 7.
Shots on goal: France 7, Italy 3.
Corner kicks: France 13, Italy 2.
Fouls: France 26, Italy 24.
Offsides: France 4, Italy 7.
Yellow cautionary cards: Italy - Alessandro Del Piero 26, Giuseppe Bergomi 28, Alessandro Costacurta 113. France - Stephane Guivarc'h 53, Didier Deschamps 63.
Attendance: 77,000 (estimated).
Referee: Hugh Dallas (Scotland).