Toni's night to remember

DEADLY DUO... Italy's Luca Toni and Francesco Totti (back to the camera) combined brilliantly to demolish Ukraine.-AP DEADLY DUO... Italy's Luca Toni and Francesco Totti (back to the camera) combined brilliantly to demolish Ukraine.

Striker Luca Toni's FIRST GOAL of the tournament brought to Italian minds the feats of Paolo Rossi, the legendary forward who became the top scorer in 1982 despite failing to find the back of the net in the first part of the tournament, writes PETER AUF DER HEYDE.

Italy comfortably defeated World Cup debutants Ukraine 3-0 in Hamburg to gain a berth in the semi-finals. The last time the two sides met at a World Cup was in 1982 in Spain, where Italy went on to win 3-1.

Italy's hero on that night was striker Luca Toni, who ended a four-match goal drought by netting two. "This is a night I am going to remember for a long time," the Fiorentina striker said after the match.

Italy's coach Marcello Lippi, speaking also on behalf of his players, dedicated the victory to Gianluca Pessotto, the former Juventus player and Italy international who is currently in an intensive care unit in a Turin hospital after a suspect suicide attempt.

"We are all close to Pessotto and his family," Lippi said.

Italy missed star defender Alessandro Nesta due to injury and fielded a guarded line-up, with playmaker Francesco Totti supporting Toni as the only striker. But while Lippi had warned his players not to underestimate the Ukrainians, it proved an unnecessary tactical move.

The Ukrainians may have been the first European team to qualify for Germany 2006, but they appeared intimidated by Italy's might. The fact that the Azzurri enjoyed a dream start, taking the lead just six minutes into the game, also didn't help.

An inspired Totti served Gianluca Zambrotta at midfield, and the Juventus player made a run at the goal and used his left foot to rifle in a shot from 25 metres that goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovski couldn't reach. It was Zambrotta's second goal in 56 appearances for Italy.

The 29-year-old left-back, who is being lured by the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid, was one of three Italy players to fly to Turin to pay a brief visit to Pessotto recently.

After taking the lead, it was a downhill match for Italy, with the Ukrainians lacking bite in attack and getting two of their players booked within the first 20 minutes while trying to stop the blue shirts. Ukraine's first real chance came only in the 33rd minute, when a long-range blast from Anatoli Timoshchuk ended just wide of Gianluigi Buffon's goal.

The yellow jerseys had a much better start in the second half but had no luck on their side. In the 48th minute, defender Andrea Barzagli almost scored Italy's second own-goal in the tournament while trying to clear a Maksim Kalinichenko cross from the left. Seconds later, it was Buffon's turn to deny the Sparta Moscow midfielder, with the goalkeeper saving his header from close range. But just as Ukraine were threatening to equalise, Italy hit back.

In the 59th minute Totti delivered a perfect cross from the left and Toni was able to score unmarked with the easiest of headers. It was the striker's first goal of the tournament, and it immediately brought to Italian minds the feats of Paolo Rossi, the legendary forward who became the top scorer in 1982 despite failing to find the back of the net in the first part of the tournament. And as if to prove them right, Toni soon added a second, finishing yet another Totti cross with a tap-in from close range.

Ukraine were unlucky to hit the crossbar in the latter part of the game but were ultimately disappointed by star striker Andriy Shevchenko, with the Chelsea player failing to live up to his fame in the match.

The quarterfinal victory extended Italy's unbeaten streak in international matches to 23.

DPA