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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
Italy keen to avoid spot test
Luigi di Biagio distraught after missing in 1998
Luigi di Biagio is left distraught after his 1998 miss
Four years ago, hosts France must have fancied their chances as soon as the final whistle blew at the end of extra-time in their quarter-final with Italy.

A goalless draw meant penalties.

All they had to do now was wait for the ghosts of the past to descend on the Stade de France and begin the haunting of their opponents.

Preying on the minds of each of the five Italians who prepared to make the daunting trek from the halfway line to the 12-yard spot was the fate of their last two World Cup disasters.

And sure enough, Italy bottled it again.

Crumpled

Luigi di Biagio was the unfortunate man this time. His thunderous drive had France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez beaten all ends up before smashing into the crossbar.

The tale of woe


1990: SF L 3-4 Argentina

1994: Final L 2-3 Brazil
1998: QF L 3-4 France

For the third successive World Cup - a record for any country - Italy were out on penalties.

Di Biagio crumpled into a heap. But for the Italian fans the pain may well have been numbed by a pre-shootout expectancy that their side were already as good as out.

Since 1990, when the competition took place on home turf, it was clear that Italy and penalties did not mix.

Nerve

With Italy so close to the ultimate prize, defeat in the 1990 semi-final against reigning champions Argentina seemed unthinkable.

And when Golden Boot winner Salvatore Schillaci opened the scoring after 17 minutes, everything was going to plan.

Roberto Baggio misses the crucial kick in the 1994 final
Roberto Baggio wishes the ground would swallow him up

However, Claudio Caniggia headed a second-half equaliser and with no further goals, to penalties it went.

After six kicks, nobody had failed.

But when Argentina's giant goalkeeper Goycoechea threw himself to the left to block Donadoni's effort, defeat was on the cards.

Maradona, on his home ground in Naples, then put Argentina 4-3 up making Aldo Serena's kick crucial.

Serena failed to hold his nerve and Goycoechea once more proved unbeatable. The home side were out.

Four years on in the USA, the scars had clearly not healed.

History

Italy were within a hair's breadth of their fourth World Cup, having held favourites Brazil to a goalless draw after extra-time in the final.

But Franco Baresi skied the opening effort of the shootout.

The men who missed


1990: Roberto Donadoni, Aldo Serena
1994: Franco Baresi, Daniele Massaro, Roberto Baggio
1998: Demetrio Albertini, Luigi Di Biagio

However, when Brazil's Marcio Santos also missed, Italy may have felt they were off the hook.

Both sides converted their next two kicks before Daniele Massaro stepped up for Italy's fourth and saw it blocked by Claudio Taffarel.

Brazil skipper Dunga knocked home his effort leaving Roberto Baggio in the unenviable position of having to score the final kick.

The rest is history.

The Divine Ponytail, the man who had inspired Italy to the final, was left looking first to the heavens - to where he had sent the ball moments earlier - and then to the ground, which he now wished would swallow him up.

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