Italy coach Roberto Donadoni hit out at Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after a 1-1 draw with Romania left his side on the brink of elimination from Euro 2008.
A 1-1 draw left the Italians bottom of Group C and no longer masters of their own destiny. Even if they beat France in their final match, the world champions will be going home early if Romania beat the already-qualified Dutch in their final match.
On Friday night’s evidence that is a distinct possibility, particularly as the Dutch, already certain of winning Group C after thrashing France 4-1, are certain to rest key players.
Only Gianluigi Buffon’s late penalty save from Adrian Mutu prevented the Italians from going down to defeat against a spirited Romania side that took four points out of six against the Dutch in qualifying for the finals.
The scale of the disarray in the Italian camp was underlined by the fact that Donadoni felt the need to make five changes from the side that had lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in their opening match.
But the head coach nevertheless refused to criticize his players over their failure to get the victory they needed, preferring instead to launch a scarcely justified broadside against the Norwegian officials that, as a good example of creating a distraction from reality, suggested he might have a future as a political spin doctor.
“I am not used to discussing referee’s performance in detail, but this was not his finest day,” Donadoni said in post-match comments that were distinctly measured in comparison to the tirade he unleashed to more receptive audiences on Italian television.
Despite admitting he had not seen the incident clearly, Donadoni suggested Ovrebo had made a “gross” error in chalking off a Luca Toni effort for offside in first half stoppage time.
The Italian coach may also have been unhappy when Ovrebo awarded Romania a late penalty when Christian Panucci and Adrian Mutu tussled for a cross.
But as the resulting spot-kick was saved, that decision did not affect the outcome of the match.
“We knew Romania would be a team to be reckoned with and we suffered at times but I’m pleased with our performance,” Donadoni said. “We were sorry for hurting so many Italian fans after the first game [a 3-0 defeat by the Dutch] and we are sorry in a way tonight because we did not get the three points we wanted to take. But I think Italy played better than Romania.”
The Italians must now prepare for a rematch of the 2006 World Cup final against France knowing that both sides could easily be eliminated, regardless of the outcome.
“It is a key game and the beginning of that game is going to be really important,” Donadoni said. “We have to prepare properly. We have three days and we will be able to use the adrenalin that has been built up.”
Romanian coach Victor Piturca voiced his delight over the result, although the celebrations were tempered by a serious injury to midfielder Mirel Radoi, who faces eye surgery after being stretchered off after a clash of heads with teammate Razvan Rat.
The Romanians will also be without key defender Dorin Goian after he needlessly picked up a second card for throwing the ball up in the air to waste time.
“I think we gained a point rather than dropped two,” Piturca said. “We controlled the match and were in the lead and had the penalty, but I think we should be satisfied. We could say Italy was lucky of course. When you have a penalty and the player does not manage to score obviously that is a lucky thing for Italy.”
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