Italy tops Iraq 1-0 for bronze medal
Posted: Friday August 27, 2004 4:26PM; Updated: Friday August 27, 2004 5:50PM
THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) -- Alberto Gilardino fired his fourth goal of the Olympic soccer tournament on Friday to lead Italy to the bronze medal in a 1-0 victory over Iraq.
The Parma striker, who netted 23 times in Serie A last season, scored the only goal in the eighth minute for the Italians, whose last Olympic success was gold at Berlin 1936.
The loss means the Iraqis leave with nothing after becoming one of the success stories of the games. Adnan Hamad's players, who were unable to play any qualifying games on home turf, made many friends by going all the way to the semifinal against a background of the daily bombings and deaths in their own country.
Italy had lost 3-0 in the semifinal to Argentina and Iraq went down 3-1 to Paraguay. Argentina and Paraguay meet in Saturday's final at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
With only some 5,000 fans in the 23,000 capacity Kaftanzoglio Stadium, there was a somber atmosphere at the game after the killing on Thursday of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni by militants in Iraq.
Before kickoff, Iraqi and Italian Olympic officials and FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed messages of condolences to Baldoni's family at a news conference and the Italian players wore black armbands as a mark of respect.
The Italians, who have struggled to find any consistency in the tournament, went ahead in the eighth minute.
Team captain and AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo ran down the left and floated a cross from almost level with the goalline and Gilardino climbed above the Iraqi defense to score his fourth goal of the tournament.
But the Iraqis were unlucky not to draw level before half time.
Razzaq Farhan wriggled between two defenders and fired a left foot shot that goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli pushed round the post.
When Qusai Munir jumped to meet the corner and turn a well-flighted header goalward, Pelizzoli pushed the ball onto the crossbar. The 'keeper then reacted just in time to nudge the rebound away from Razzaq who was unmarked and about to push the ball home.
Razzaq had a great chance to level soon after the break when a slick Iraqi move opened up the Italian defense and he was left with just Pelizzoli to beat. But his low shot was too close to the keeper and struck his boot instead of the back of the net.
Italian defender Andrea Barzagli almost gave away a goal when he tried to dribble the ball out of his own six meter (yard) box but was caught in possession by Hawar Mulla Mohammed and Razzaq. Luckily for him, neither Iraqi was able to get a clear shot on goal.
With Gilardino playing virtually alone in attack, the nearest Italy got to scoring for 30 minutes was when Pirlo curled a 30-meter (yard) free kick just past the angle of the post and bar in the 66th.
But the Italians should have gone further ahead two minutes later when Pirlo lofted a pass over the Iraqi defense and Gilardino got clear only to lob the ball over the 'keeper and the crossbar.
Qusai almost tied the score when the Italians lost the ball just outside their own area and he ran through to shoot over the top from 18 meters (yards).
Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.