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Buffon keeps Italy alive

Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
AP Photo/Peter KlaunzerItalian goalie Gianluigi Buffon saves a penalty kick shot by Adrian Mutu, unseen, during the group C match between Italy and Romania in Zurich, Switzerland on Friday at the Euro 2008 European Soccer Championships in Austria and Switzerland.
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ZURICH, Switzerland ” Gianluigi Buffon saved a late penalty from Adrian Mutu to keep World Cup champion Italy in the European Championship with a 1-1 draw against Romania on Friday.

Daniel Niculae was dragged down by Christian Panucci in the 80th minute, and a penalty was awarded. Buffon dived to his left and reached back with his hand to stop Mutu’s shot, and the ball then deflected away off the goalkeeper’s leg.

“Italy got lucky today,” Romania coach Victor Piturca said.

Mutu, who plays for Fiorentina, gave Romania the lead in the 55th minute following a defensive mistake by Gianluca Zambrotta. A long free kick by Gabriel Tamas was headed back toward the Italy goal by the defender, but Mutu was there to steal it and send a right-footed shot past the charging Buffon. Mutu’s goal was his 29th in 63 appearances for Romania. He also led the team with six goals in qualifying.

It took the Italians only one minute to reply. Panucci scored his fourth goal in 55 internationals from close range after a corner kick was headed toward him by Giorgio Chiellini, Tamas missing a chance to clear the danger.

“I was upset the way we allowed a goal. After that, penalties have been lost, are lost, and will be lost in the future,” Piturca said. “Buffon is the world’s best goalkeeper.”

Romania has two points in Group C, while Italy, which lost to the Netherlands 3-0 in its opener, has one. The Italians, who would have been eliminated with a loss, now must beat France in their final group game to advance.

“After the Holland game, all of us had to shoulder the responsibility,” Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. “We were sorry to hurt so many Italian fans with the way we played. And we’re sorry somewhat tonight, because we didn’t get the three points I think we deserved.”

Both teams also came close to scoring in the first half.

Romania captain Cristian Chivu hit the post in the 20th when his long-range free kick deflected off Panucci, and Italy forward Luca Toni had a goal annulled for a controversial offside call in first-half injury time.

“It’s funny that they saw Panucci when he was off the field against Holland and then they didn’t see the player by the post,” Donadoni said. “The error really cost us.”

In the loss to the Netherlands, Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal was allowed even though the Dutch forward appeared to be offside because Panucci was lying injured off the field of play.

“I think Italy played better than Romania tonight,” Donadoni added. “I expected Romania to play like this, because I saw the way they played against France. They are very good defensively. They are very good at containing and they are very good at closing down space.”

Italy changed virtually half its starting lineup from the Netherlands debacle, with the most noteworthy move being Alessandro Del Piero coming on alongside Toni in attack.

Simone Perrotta, Daniele De Rossi, Fabio Grosso and Giorgio Chiellini also moved into the lineup, while Antonio Di Natale, Massimo Ambrosini, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Barzagli and Marco Materazzi were all relegated to Italy’s bench.

While still employing the same defensive tactics from its opening 0-0 draw with France, Romania had the first chance after only 25 seconds, with Mutu heading a cross from Paul Codrea high.

Italy didn’t pose a threat until the ninth, when Del Piero headed wide from close range following a setup from Perrotta. Three minutes later, Grosso dribbled through Florentin Petre’s legs as Italy began to organize itself and push up the left flank.

Mauro Camoranesi and Grosso each attempted early crosses to Toni, but they placed the ball a bit too high for the 1.93-meter (6-foot-4) striker.

Mutu strode through the Azzurri defense and forced Buffon to make a tough save in the 16th. Two minutes later, Gabriel Tamas put Buffon to the test again with a long, low free kick that the goalkeeper stretched to deflect.

With the momentum clearly in its favor, Romania then nearly scored in the 20th when Chivu’s free kick hit the post.

A few seconds later, Razvan Rat and Mirel Radoi collided and Radoi was carried off the field with a bandage over his right eye, forcing Romania to bring on Nicolae Dica.

Toni had two more chances late in the first half, but Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont saved both at the last possible instant. Lobont was Toni’s teammate when the pair were with Fiorentina in 2006.

In first-half injury time, Toni finally found the target with a header but the goal was annulled for offside. Toni scored 39 goals for Bayern Munich last season, but his form at this tournament has been a source of debate.

Defender Dorin Goian was cautioned for throwing the ball into the air out of frustration in the 73rd and will miss Romania’s final group game against the Netherlands.

___

Lineups:

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Christian Panucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Grosso, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Mauro Camoranesi (Massimo Ambrosini, 85), Alessandro Del Piero (Fabio Quagliarella, 77), Simone Perrotta (Antonio Cassano, 57), Luca Toni.

Romania: Bogdan Lobont, Cosmin Contra, Gabriel Tamas, Dorin Goian, Razvan Rat, Florentin Petre (Banel Nicolita, 59), Mirel Radoi (Nicolae Dica, 25), Cristian Chivu, Paul Codrea, Adrian Mutu (Razvan Cocis, 88), Daniel Niculae.


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