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Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Fiore blooms with Azzurri
Stefano Fiore
Stefano Fiore, the new Italian hero
When you think of the virtues generally associated with the Italian team - obduracy in defence, hard work, discipline - flower power is not normally amongst them.

That may be changing.

The new hero of the Azzurri, Stefano Fiore, is the man with the answers.



I wanted to prove something to those who didn't believe in me

Stefano Fiore
Fiore, who scored a wonderful goal against Belgium this week, is depicted as a super-hero called "Flower-Power" on his website. "Fiore" means "flowers" in Italian.

The curling goal, which gave Italy their second win of the competition, was the Udinese man's first goal for his country. As he celebrated, he pointed out the name across his shoulders to the crowd.

Instinctive

"It was an instinctive thing," he said.

"But it was also a little gesture to those who were sceptical about me.

"I wanted to prove something to those who didn't believe in me. I wanted them to remember my name."

Fiore was only called up to the Italian squad in late February, and won his first cap in a friendly against Sweden - Italy's opponents in their final group B match on Monday.


Stefano Fiore
Fiore: flower-power from whom Italy's attacks stem
But since then the powerful midfielder has played in every match, with coach Dino Zoff moving him around the team in an attempt to find his ideal position.

"In the last two months I've been playing practically the same role in the national side as I have at Udinese," he said. "I'm the attacking midfielder in a five-man midfield.

"But over the course of the year my role has changed. Firstly I was in the centre in front of the defence, then on the flank."

Deep south

Fiore, 25, started his career at his local side Cosenza, in the poor province of Calabria in Italy's deep south.

He signed for Parma in 1994 but was farmed out to nearby Padova and Chievo Verona.

Parma took him back in 1997, but although Fiore stayed there for the next two seasons he never nailed down a place in a formidable midfield dominated by Argentine Juan Veron and French World Cup winner Alain Boghossian.

A year ago Fiore moved to unfashionable Udinese where his career has taken off.

"It was difficult leaving Parma because I had the chance of fighting for a place at a big club," he said.

"But I was only in the second tier. That was fine a few years ago but not now.

Under-performing

"I wanted to find out if I was the one who was under-performing - if I had limits.

"With all respect to Udinese, I chose a team which was clearly worse than Parma. I didn't want the big stage."

Fiore is the only one of Zoff's 22 squad players who does not play for one of the so-called "seven sisters" of Serie A - Lazio, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Parma, AS Roma and Fiorentina, but he says that is no bad thing.

"In the provinces you can grow and mature. At the big clubs you can't. You have to be good straight away," he said.

"I've experienced that myself. At Parma I had a great six months, I won a first team place, I had one bad match, I found myself left out of the side and by June I was sold."

Serie A

One year on though, Fiore says he is ready to return to one of the Serie A big fish.

Lazio, AC Milan and Inter Milan all reportedly want to sign him but Udinese have said he is under contract until 2003 and is not for sale - much to Fiore's annoyance.

"I hope it can be resolved soon," he said.

"People say I owe a lot to Udinese but it's also true that Udinese owe me a fair bit. Who wouldn't want to play for one of the best squads in Italy?"

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See also:

14 Jun 00 | Italy
Italy head for quarter-finals
15 Jun 00 | Italy
Zoff defends tactics
02 Jun 00 | Squad
Stefano Fiore
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