Italy staked their claim to a place in the Euro 2000 quarter-finals on Wednesday night as goals from Francesco Totti and Stefano Fiore earned them a 2-0 win over Belgium in Group B.
Belgium dominated the match in terms of possession, but the hosts were fended off a defense marshaled by Paolo Maldini and then suckered by two goals of world-class quality from Totti in the sixth minute and Fiore in the 66th.
The win leaves Italy top of Group B with six points, after their 2-1 victory over Turkey, with only Sweden left to face and they are all but through to the last eight although mathematically it is not yet certain.
The Swedes, beaten 2-1 by Belgium in last Saturday's opener, play Turkey on Thursday.
"We played well but I thought we suffered because the Belgians played a very physical game," said Italy coach Dino Zoff on Eurosport.
"There is still more to come from us and we are getting better and better.
His Belgian counterpart Robert Waseige sounded an upbeat note, saying: "I am very happy with my players, their state of morale and their general condition.
"This evening we still have our fate in our own hands. Let's not be pessimistic."
Now re-named in honor of King Baudouin, Italy were playing their first match at the former Heysel stadium since 39 mainly Italian fans died after being charged by Liverpool supporters before the 1985 European Cup final against Juventus.
In a simple ceremony before the match, Italy team captain Paolo Maldini laid white roses before a plaque here which bears witness to the tragedy.
"Players realized the significance of playing here with the memories of Heysel," said Zoff.
When the game started, Italy stamped their mark immediately with three scoring chances.
Belgian goalkeeper Filip De Wilde made a spectacular double save from Maldini and Filippo Inzaghi after five minutes but within a minute Italy were ahead with Totti the scorer.
Demetrio Albertini powered over a free kick from the right and the AS Roma skipper stooped for a bullet header, which left De Wilde no chance.
Belgium soon hit back and went on to dominate the next hour with Bart Goor striking a post in the first half.
But after 66 minutes they were caught out by a stylish Italian break.
Playmaker Fiore picked up the ball in midfield, worked a neat one-two with Inzaghi and then crashed a spectacular 20-metre shot past De Wilde with his instep.
"It was a nice one-two for the goal but well done to the whole team," Fiore told Rai Uno.
"It was very good, we played it very well (Fiore and Inzaghi). He (Inzaghi) held it up well, well done to him. Well done to the whole team."
Italy looked to have had a third when Joos Valgaeren headed into his own net in the closing minutes, but the Belgian defender had been pushed in the back by Italian substitute Marco Delvecchio and the strike was disallowed.
Belgium's Marc Wilmots lamented: "We were always chasing the game after Totti's early goal.
"We didn't play well against Sweden and took three points. Tonight we played better and got nothing.
"However, Italy are a very accomplished side and played very positively,” – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)