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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Italians fret over exit
By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

Gianluigi Buffon is devastated after learning Italy have been knocked out of Euro 2004
It was the perfect result for conspiracy theorists - but shattered Italy's dreams of Euro 2004 glory.

Sweden's 2-2 draw with Denmark ensured that both teams progressed from Group C - but will take Italian angst to a whole new level.

After Giovanni Trapattoni's team were dumped out of the 2002 World Cup by some contentious refereeing decisions, Italy, not to put too fine a point on it, went berserk.

Perugia's maverick president Luciano Gaucci sacked his South Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan, who scored the golden goal winner against the Italians.

The nation went into a state of mourning and it took a long time for a raw wound to heal.

Euro 2004 was supposed to be the tournament that finally put paid to the pain of the last World Cup, but instead events at Estadio do Bessa on Tuesday will ensure Italian people continue to feel the world is against them.

Anyone who saw the game can be in no doubt that both teams tried to win it
Thomas Sorensen

A 2-2 draw is an unlikely score in any match, especially when one of the teams has yet to concede in the competition.

But in Porto on Tuesday no one was talking about anything else.

Supporters from both teams were interviewed on Portuguese television.

None of them gave any credence to the ridiculous theories that the match had been fixed - but all wanted the game to finish with Italy on their way home.

One Danish photographer, who has been following the national team for 27 years, said: "I have seen just about everything in that time but tonight I think I will see something new."

Italian television requested seven extra camera positions in the hope they could analyse every possible angle for evidence of foul play - in the end they were granted two.

And Italians would have been apoplectic at the scenes an hour before kick off when these two friendliest of neighbours made their way onto the pitch to get a feel for the stadium.

Italian fans suffered as their side slid out

Several Swedes and Danes are team-mates at club level and mingled together, catching up and exchanging jokes.

But once the action started, there can be no suggestion that the match was anything other than a genuine battle for ascendancy in Scandinavian football.

At one point, with Denmark clearly on top, Freddie Ljungberg and Olof Mellberg engaged in a frank exchange of opinion as to what was going wrong.

Denmark had the better of the match and, leading 2-1, had numerous opportunities to kill off the contest.

With full-time looming some of the Swedish fans had fallen quiet, but some stuck to the belief that a 2-2 draw had been cast by the gods.

And sure enough Denmark goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, superb throughout the tournament, failed to hold Christian Wilhelmsson's regulation cross in the 89th minute and Mattias Jonson hooked the ball home to spark scenes of mass celebration in the Swedish camp.

The last minute of the game passed in surreal fashion, with the ball played between the Swedish defenders while the Danish stayed up field, a good 30 metres away.

It was torrid viewing for all Italian supporters.

But afterwards talk of a conspiracy was quickly shot down.

You always have it in your own hands from the start in these tournaments - and Italy haven't done well enough to go through
Sweden's Olof Mellberg

Sorensen said: "Anyone who saw the game can be in no doubt that both teams tried to win it."

And he highlighted the conditions for his mistake.

"It was very hard and the ball was very slippery, for both the keepers it was very difficult."

Sweden midfielder Freddie Ljungberg told BBC Sport any talk of a fix was ludicrous.

"If it was 0-0 or something maybe you could say we planned it but to score four goals is very difficult to plan and Denmark's goal to go 2-1 up was a bit of a fluke so you can't plan that."

Just try telling that to an Italian nation that woke up on Wednesday to realise another nightmare had come true.

Links to more Italy stories



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