Marcello Lippi delivered an extraordinary rant against the paying public in Parma just seconds after another injury time goal from Alberto Gilardino earned his team a victory by the narrowest of margins in their match against Cyprus on Wednesday evening. Labelling the whistles and shouts his team received at half time as "disgusting", he seemed particularly irked by the calls for Cassano to replace players in his current squad.
Down 1-0 at half time to a goal from Okkas, the Azzurri were booed from the field by the fans for the poor performance. Lippi immediately made changes, with Di Natale and Camoranesi coming on for the disappointing Giuseppe Rossi and Simone Pepe, but it did not have the immediate desired effect.
In fact, the world champions looked down and out when Michail doubled the minnows' lead three minutes after the break as poor defending allowed him the chance to volley in the box. For the next twenty minutes, the Azzurri looked like a team shorn of ideas, and people tuning in might have thought Italy must be the team in white, so dominant were the Cypriots in midfield.
However, they say the mark of a great team is to win even when playing badly and that is exactly what Italy did. The introduction of De Rossi for a largely anonymous D'Agostino helped Italy to gain control in midfield, and not long after that, Fiorentina striker Gilardino rewarded his manager's faith in him to score with a fine header in the 78th minute. The change in both teams' approach was noticeable; where Italy had barely looked interested before, they began to fight for every ball, and the Cypriot defence which had looked so assured for most of the match suddenly looked all at sea.
But before Cyprus had a chance to steady the ship, Gilardino had struck again, this time with a smart finish at the near post after good work on the left from Quagliarella. The public were by now in full voice in support of the team, recognising the fighting spirit that had been so absent in the first hour of the game. They sensed a winner was on the cards, and after Marchetti had made a fine save at the other end, Italy's new hero delivered two minutes into injury time. A fine run from Di Natale allowed him to pick out Quagliarella. The Napoli striker steadied himself and shot, the ball cannoning off the defender and between two defenders who scrambled to keep it out - only for the boot of Gilardino to sneak between them and force the ball in.
It was a remarkable hat trick, more so for the fact that after 60 minutes, it was a struggle to see how any player would get one goal for the Azzurri, never mind a "tripletta".
But while the headlines were probably already being written about Gilardino's fine performance and the team's remarkable comeback, Lippi's words at full time will no doubt dominate tomorrow's papers. Clearly emotional after the fightback, Lippi responded angrily when asked to give his thoughts on the evening. "We qualified for the World Cup with a game in hand, everyone was happy, I changed 11 players from the last game - 11 players, more than any other team would ever do - we're the world champions and we were playing a game which didn't matter. But when we have our first difficulty people decide to attack us . . . are they out of their minds? And then they shout for the manager to pick other players . . . It's disgusting."
Italy 3-2 Cyprus (0-1)
Goals: 12' Okkas, 48' Michail; 78', 81' and 92' Gilardino
Italy: Marchetti; Santon; Gamberini; Cannavaro; Bocchetti; Pepe (45 mins Camoranesi); D'Agostino (66 mins De Rossi); Gattuso; Quagliarella; Rossi (45 mins Di Natale) Subs not used: De Sanctis; Chiellini; Zambrotta; Iaquinta
Cyprus: Avgousti; Charalambous; Christou (75 mins Satsias); Michail; Charalampidis; Ilia; Makridis; Dobrasinovic (85 mins Alexandrou); Aloneftis (73 mins Kostantinou); Avraam; Okkas Subs Not used: Morfis; Maragkos; Nikolau