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The Night England Gained Italian Respect

The Italians have looked at the England team with new respect in recent years. The match that altered their outlook came on a dramatic night in Rome nearly five years ago.

They have always admired English tenacity and physical prowess while feeling superior in terms of skill and technique.

But all that changed on October 11, 1997 when England qualified for the World Cup by outplaying the Italians in their own back yard.

The 0-0 scoreline scarcely begins to describe what happened in the Olympic Stadium, where Italy had previously enjoyed a 100% record in World Cup qualifiers.

England were the team who stroked the ball around comfortably. Italy were unable to win possession off the likes of David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham.

As eight thousand England fans sang the Great Escape theme tune with unprecedented vigour, Gazza summed up the mood by saying: "It was great to see Italy being the team that had to chase the ball. They were desperate".

It could have been even better. Ian Wright, standing in for the injured Alan Shearer, hit the post in the closing minutes after rounding goalkeeper Angelo Perruzzi.

Manager Glenn Hoddle said about team’s performance: "I really thought I was dreaming. We deserved to win and as a perfectionist I’m disappointed we didn’t.

"We passed the ball well and kept our heads. Nobody was under eight out of 10 for effort and the way we played."

Although the 4-1 victory against Holland at Euro 96 and 5-1 win in Germany last October are rightly celebrated as the two best results by England in modern times, the actual performance in Rome was equal to them.

It ensured Italy would never be sniffy about England’s skill factor again.

Their manager Cesare Maldini hailed England the best side in Europe while the influential newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport wrote: "The Lions, who once knew only how to launch the ball and run under it, now dribble with skill, take possession with elegance and look for the winning chance".

Of course, every truly heroic performance needs something of the Bulldog spirit. And Paul Ince had it in abundance in Rome.

As Gazza’s midfield minder, Ince was elbowed by Demetrio Albertini in the first half but played on bloodied but unbowed with a giant bandage wrapped around his head.

The shots of a bandaged Ince celebrating at the final whistle are among the most memorable taken at an England game.

"The whole night was just amazing," he recalls. "We had planned so hard for the game and were fantastic in all the pressure."



Peruzzi, Nesta, Maldini, Albertini, Cannavaro, Costacurta, Di Livio, Baggio, Vieri, Zola, Inzaghi, Subs: Benarrivo for Maldini (32 mins), Chiesa for Inzaghi (46 mins), and Del Piero for Zola (63 mins).

Sent off: Di Livio (77)


Seaman, Campbell, Le Saux, Ince, Adams, Southgate, Beckham, Gascoigne, Wright, Sheringham, Batty D, Sub: N Butt for Gascoigne (89 mins).

Attendance: 81,000


Italy 2 England 1 in Bari (World Cup 3rd place play-off) 1990

Bobby Robson and Peter Shilton bowed out of international football in a match played in a great atmosphere – both sets of players doing the Mexican Wave with each other as they posed for pictures at the end.

Roberto Baggio opened the scoring for Italy before David Platt equalised in the stadium which was to become his home ground months later. Toto Schillaci netted the winner from the penalty spot, his sixth goal of the tournament which gave him the Golden Boot.

England 0 Italy 1 at Wembley (World Cup qualifier) Feb 1997

Chelsea’s Gianfranco Zola scored the only goal with a vicious shot to Ian Walker’s near post. Matt Le Tissier came agonisingly close with a header for England but the result left Glenn Hoddle with his first defeat as England boss.

England 2 Italy 0 in France (Le Tournoi) June 1997

A new England star was born with Paul Scholes earning rave reviews on his debut and scoring England’s second goal just before half-time. Ian Wright netted the first after 26 minutes; it remains England’s only victory against Italy since 1977
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