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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK
Del Piero's star shining again
Alessandro del piero after his goal against Mexico
Del Piero has gone from villain to hero

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The finger pointed skywards and the look up to the heavens said it all as Italian forward Alessandro del Piero reeled away in celebration at his equaliser against Mexico.

England's David Beckham had laid his ghost to rest with his penalty winner against Argentina and Del Piero's goal meant just as much to him.

He had been blamed and berated for Italy's golden goal loss to France in the final of Euro 2000 after he squandered two glorious chances.

Open Quote
It is a stupendous feeling to come off the bench and get us a goal
Close Quote
Alessandro del Piero

The 27-year-old had gone into that tournament nine months after recovering from a serious knee injury and emerged as the villain of the Italian piece.

Add to that his disappointing displays at France 98 and his failures at international level were threatening to undermine his enigmatic talent.

He was also targeted by fans of his own club Juventus during a lean spell in a Serie A season which saw the Turin club win the Italian championship.

So, it was fair to say Del Piero was shouldering an immense burden coming into the World Cup.

As if that was not enough, he has had to watch from the bench for each of Italy's three Group G games.

Alessandro del Pierro
Del Piero after his Euro 2000 disappointment

You might have been forgiven for believing the former idol of the Azzurri was a spent force with Francesco Totti taking on the mantle as the new darling of Italian football.

But in a sign of the man and player, just when Italian nerves were fraying at the edges, Del Piero rose to illuminate his star again.

"It is a stupendous feeling to come off the bench and get us a goal that could calm us all down," said Del Piero.

"Everyone, when they are on the bench, wants to come on and get an important goal."

He added: "I have been out of the side, but I never gave up and obviously to come on and get the goal is great.

"I have felt in good shape even though I haven't been playing."

In the game against Mexico, Del Piero had to watch helplessly as Filippo Inzaghi and Christian Vieri started in attack.

Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni's reaction to Del Piero's goal against Mexico
Trapattoni had a chat with Del Piero

At half-time, with Mexico leading 1-0 and Croatia level at 0-0 with Ecuador, Italy were in danger of joining France and Argentina as fallen giants.

Roma striker Vincenzo Montella was then brought on to get rescue Italian hopes before Del Piero arrived for Totti after 78 minutes.

Seven minutes later, the determination and will of Del Piero, who has four Serie A winners' medals and a Champions League victors medal, paid off when he headed in Montella's cross.

He turned Italian blushes to smiles of joy and relief and eased his shoulders from the weight of an Italian nation's disappointment at previous failures.

A talk with national coach Giovanni Trapattoni also seems to have done the trick.

"He really wanted to play," said Trapattoni. "I made it clear what I thought his position was, what his strengths were and those of the other attackers.

"He made himself available saying, 'If you need me, I'll be there.'"


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GROUP G
  P GD PTS
MEXICO 3 +2 7
ITALY 3 +1 4
CROATIA 3 -1 3
ECUADOR 3 -2 3

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