Italy was held to a 0-0 tie by Denmark yesterday, a setback for an Italian team considered one of the favorites to win the European Championship.
The Italians were outplayed by a workmanlike Danish team that was stronger and quicker and would have won if not for two saves by Gianluigi Buffon, one of the world's best goalkeepers.
"At last, we faced the reality of European Championship," Italy Coach Giovanni Trapattoni said.
Buffon kept out shots by Martin Joergensen and Dennis Rommedahl. Denmark goalie Thomas Soerensen made reflex-action stops on shots by Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti in the space of two seconds late in the first half.
Playing in 91-degree heat at the Dom Afonso Henriques Stadium in Guimaraes, Portugal, the Danes employed pace and muscle to try and unsettle the usually rock-solid Italian defense. They provided some early scares.
"I thought we deserved to win the game," Denmark Coach Morten Olsen said. "We were better prepared, certainly better prepared than Italy. There is no doubt about that."
The Italians came close to scoring when Totti's 30-yard free kick was bending toward the net before Soerensen pushed the ball around the post.
Fielding four stars who play regularly in the Italian league, the Danes stretched the Italian midfield and pressured the Italian defense. They also were rescued by Soerensen just before halftime. He leaped to his right to push out Del Piero's shot, then recovered to deny Totti's follow-up with his right hand.
At the other end, Buffon dived low to his right to block a shot from Martin Joergensen.
"We didn't play well in the first half," Trapattoni told Italy's RAI. "We were better in the second half and, considering the game as a whole, a draw is a fair result."
Soerensen and Buffon chatted briefly after the game.
"He came over and said, 'Well done,' " Soerensen said. "He's a good keeper, too, and I think we showed that today."
* SWEDEN 5, BULGARIA 0: Henrik Larsson scored twice within two minutes in the second half on his return to competitive soccer for Sweden. The 32-year-old, who has scored 27 goals in 75 matches, fired a diving header past goalkeeper Zdravko Zdravkov in the 57th minute before tapping in a cross from Anders Svensson about a minute later. Overall, he has scored seven goals in six games against Bulgaria.
"It feels fantastic and we will enjoy tonight, but this is just one result and tomorrow we'll start to prepare again," Larsson told Sweden's TV4. "It was a little ragged in the first half but after 2-0 we played completely differently."
More than 110,000 Swedes signed a petition to persuade Larsson to return to the team following his retirement at the end of the 2002 World Cup. UEFA President Lennart Johansson, also a Swede, made a personal plea, offering to fly Larsson's family to Portugal for the tournament. Larsson briefly came out of retirement for a Euro 2004 qualifier against Hungary in April last year.
Fredrik Ljungberg opened the scoring after 32 minutes. Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted a spot kick and Marcus Allback added the fifth.
Ljungberg finished from close range after Ibrahimovic beat Bulgaria's offside trap, ran into the penalty area and squared the ball to the Arsenal winger. Zdravkov had advanced to close down Ibrahimovic, leaving an empty net.
Ibrahimovic scored his penalty with 12 minutes remaining, as Larsson passed up the opportunity to get a hat-trick.
Sweden has won eight of 12 games with Bulgaria. The winning margin yesterday equaled the tournament record set in a 6-1 victory by the Netherlands over Yugoslavia in 2000.