Italy began their World Cup campaign in stylish, confident mood with a comfortable win over World Cup newcomers Ecuador.
Inter Milan striker Christian Vieri opened the scoring after just six minutes - and struck again after 27 minutes as the Italians took the game beyond their South American opposition.
Ecuador - playing their first ever World Cup fixture - seemed relatively at ease on the ball.
But they lacked the confidence to take the game to the Italians and rarely threatened Gianluigi Buffon's goal.
Italy, on the other hand, moved forward with ruthless precision and forwards Vieri and Francesco Totti caused numerous problems with their guile and vision.
The match at times had the feel of a training game rather than a World Cup fixture.
And the appreciative but quiet Japanese spectators added to a slightly surreal atmosphere inside the Sapporo Dome.
The game began at a frenetic pace, with Ecuador making some strong challenges as they tried to impose themselves on the match.
But it did not take Italy long to move in front.
The whole team played well, not just me
After six minutes Totti played Vieri through with an exquisite pass and Ecuador goalkeeper Jose Cevallos did well to come off his line and smother the Italian's shot.
A minute later Italy pushed forward again and Vieri comprehensively smashed Totti's cut-back into the net from 14 yards.
Totti almost doubled his team's lead with a dipping angled shot from 20 yards after 11 minutes that Cevallos pushed around the post for a corner.
Ecuador, though, surrendered possession far too easily and were soon punished again.
The South American team gave the ball away in their own half and were cruelly exposed by a long ball up-field from Luigi di Biagio to Vieri, who shrugged off Ivan Hurtado's challenge before slipping the ball under Cevallos.
Panucci is challenged by Ecuador's Chala
The Ecuador goalkeeper made a partial save but Vieri reacted quickly and was able to tap the ball into an empty net.
Ecuador did manage a shot on target after 40 minutes - but Edwin Tenorio's tame shot was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon.
The struggling Ecuadorians improved in the second half, at least moving forward with intent and a semblance of self-belief.
But Italy still continued to create chances.
Damiano Tommasi shot just over, Cristiano Doni hit the crossbar and Vieri - in search of his hat-trick - forced a good save from Cevallos.
But the Italians did not play with the same intensity as during the early stages of the match when they were trying to seize the initiative.
And Angelo di Livio, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro del Piero were all given run-outs as the Italians fined-tuned their match fitness ahead of the tougher challenges ahead.
Right at the end a fortunate deflection presented Agustin Delgardo with a great opportunity to score for Ecuador - but he was denied by an excellent save from Buffon.
Ecuador: Cevallos, De la Cruz, Hurtado, Guerron, Poroso,
Obregon, Mendez, Edwin Tenorio (Marlon Ayovi 59),
Chala (Ascensio 85), Aguinaga (Carlos Tenorio 45), Delgado.
Subs Not Used: Walter Ayovi, Burbano, Espinoza, Fernandez, Gomes, Ibarra, Kaviedes, Sanchez, Viteri.
Booked: Poroso, De la Cruz, Chala.
Referee: B Hall (USA).
MATCH STATS |
| Italy | Ecuador |
Corners (1st half) | 3 | 2 |
Corners (2nd half) | 2 | 6 |
Fouls committed | 16 | 12 |
Caught offside | 3 | 2 |
Shots on target | 10 | 6 |
Shots off target | 4 | 7 |
Hit woodwork (back into play) | 0 | 0 |
Yellow cards | 1 | 3 |
Red cards | 0 | 0 |
STOPPAGE TIME | |
First half - 1 mins | Second half - 2 mins |