Pirlo magic downs Scots
By Paul Higham. Last Updated: 26/03/05 7:04pm
Andrea Pirlo was the hero for Italy as he produced two stunning free kicks on his home ground in Milan to dispose of an improved Scotland side 2-0 at San Siro.
Milan playmaker Pirlo is well used to the dimensions of his home ground, and he exploited them to the fullest when curling in a pair of superbly-taken free kicks.
His first ten minutes before half time broke the deadlock when wrong-footing Rab Douglas from just outside the box.
Pirlo's second came five minutes from time, and was even further out, but the result was the same as the ball whistled past substitute keeper Craig Gordon to hand Marcelo Lippi's side the points.
Walter Smith's side performed admirably in his first game in charge and things could have been different had Gianluigi Buffon not denied Nigel Quashie and Kenny Miller had not fluffed his finish when clean through.
The visitors signalled their intent early on by closing down the Italians at every opportunity, although Greek referee Kyros Vassaras was quick to award free kicks for nearly every strong challenge put in by Scotland.
Francesco Totti had a free kick blocked, while another was well handled by Douglas on what was a slippery surface during a rainy night in Milan.
Antonio Cassano in particular was looking lively, and he ghosted behind the Scottish rearguard onto a chip into the box - but his controlled volley was well tipped over by Douglas.
The Roma man then got the ball into the net just after the half-hour mark, only to see his goal chalked off for offside.
That was a warning sign for Scotland, and Italy duly went ahead on 35 minutes with a superb free kick from Pirlo.
The Milan man, playing on his home ground, beat Douglas with a sumptuous curling effort from the edge of the box to notch his second international goal.
Scotland's luck went from bad to worse as Douglas had to limp off minutes later with a groin injury, with Hearts keeper Gordon being introduced into the action.
Italy nearly doubled their advantage just before half time with a superb passing move involving a neat one-two with Cassano and Alberto Gilardino, but Totti blazed over after receiving the cut-back ten yards out.
Smith's side came out fighting in the second half, and they could have been level six minutes after the break but for the brilliance of Buffon.
Quashie burst into the box on the left and unleashed a powerful drive across Buffon, only for the Juventus keeper to just get his finger tips on the ball to divert it wide of the post.
Lone striker Miller had an even better chance just two minutes later when he raced clean through on goal, but the Wolves man's finish was weak and Buffon easily saved, before scrambling the rebound clear.
Italy got back into the game after the two scares, and Cassano showed great skill on 67 minutes to dance into the box down the left, but his chipped cross was too long.
Italy eventually sealed the three points five minutes from time, and it came from the same source as the opener.
Milan man Pirlo reproduced his first half heroics with another sparkling free kick, although the second was probably better.
Pirlo stepped up with the ball 30 yards from goal, and whipped in a stunning free kick that flew right into the top corner giving Gordon no chance, and sealing the win for the hosts.
Smith's Scotland will be left ruing their missed chances early in the second half, with just Pirlo's magic proving the difference between the sides in the end.
Italy open up a five-point gap at the top of Group Five, while Scotland are still without a win from four outings.
Italy 2-0 Scotland
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||4|
|4||Shots off Target||2|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying
Sat 26th Mar - Group A
Armenia2 - 1Andorra
Czech Rep4 - 3Finland
Romania0 - 2Holland
Sat 26th Mar - Group F
England4 - 0N Ireland
Wales0 - 2Austria
Poland8 - 0Azerbaijan
Sat 26th Mar - Group H
Bulgaria0 - 3Sweden
Croatia4 - 0Iceland
Sat 26th Mar - Group C
Estonia1 - 2Slovakia
Liechtenstein1 - 2Russia
Sat 26th Mar - Group B
Georgia1 - 3Greece
Turkey2 - 0Albania
Denmark3 - 0Kazakhstan
Sat 26th Mar - Group D
Israel1 - 1Rep Ire
France0 - 0Switzerlnd
Sat 26th Mar - Group G
Belgium4 - 1Bos&Herz
Sat 26th Mar - Group E
Italy2 - 0Scotland
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group A
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group B
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||10||14|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group D
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group E
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group F
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group G
|1||Bosnia and Herzegovina||10||25|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group H
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group I