GREATEST GAME EDITION
GREATEST GAME EDITION
Cymru 2-1 Italy – 16 October 2002 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Cymru XI: Jones (GK), Delaney, Gabbidon, Melville, Davies, Giggs, Pembridge, Savage, Speed, Bellamy (Blake 90), Hartson.
Goals: Davies (11), Bellamy (70).
A capacity crowd were present to witness this memorable win as Craig Bellamy scored a 70th minute winner in this UEFA EURO 2004 qualifier in Cardiff. Managed by veteran Giovanni Trapattoni, this was a golden generation for Italian football, and a string of star names arrived in the capital expecting to leave with maximum points. However, Cymru produced an exceptional performance on the night, and it would become one of the greatest results in the history of the national team.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Christian Panucci, Alessandro Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo were some of the star names included in the starting line-up for Italy, but it was Simon Davies who would open the scoring for Cymru after just 11 minutes with what was his third international goal in as many games. However, Del Piero would level for the visitors on 32 minutes, when his free-kick on the edge of the area deflected off the head of defender Mark Delaney and over goalkeeper Paul Jones for the equaliser.
But the best was yet to come, and with 20 minutes remaining John Hartson split the Italian defence with a perfect ball for Bellamy to control. With everything still to do, Bellamy showed incredible composure to take the ball around the advancing Buffon and send the crowd wild as he slotted the ball into the empty net. As Hughes rallied his side from the sidelines for the intense final exchanges, the passionate support desperate to witness this incredible victory lifted the players, and Cymru held on for maximum points with the celebrations lasting long into the night.
Building on the 2-0 victory over Finland that opened the campaign the previous month, Hughes was keen to take measured approach to the win. “It's a good performance and we're absolutely delighted,” he explained. “We needed a good start and we've got it. They're great lads to work with. Now we need to keep it going - it's another game out of the way. We're all well aware that it's all well and good getting these points in the bag but we can't then go to places like Azerbaijan and slip up.”
And Cymru took note of Hughes' view on the group, eventually finishing second behind Italy to qualify for the play-offs. However, the campaign would end in frustration and disappointment as the side failed to capitalise on a 0-0 draw against Russia in Moscow. With another capacity crowd behind them at the Millennium Stadium for the return match, it seemed that Cymru could make it over the line, but a 1-0 defeat on the night brought the dream of reaching the EURO finals for the first time to an end. Hughes would leave his post the following year to take charge of Blackburn Rovers.