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Sports News of Thursday, 12 August 2004

Source: Ghana Celebrities

Ghana Hold Italy

Alberto Gilardino grabbed an equaliser seven minutes from time as Italy fought back from two goals down to scrape a 2-2 draw against Ghana in their opening Group B match in Volos.

The Parma marksman, the second highest scorer in Serie A last season with 23 goals, pounced after Ghana goalkeeper George Owu failed to hold on to his first shot to save Italy's blushes and rescue a point.

The Italians, who in June won the European under-21 championships in Germany, provided all the flair and neat touches but they were stunned by two clinical first-half strikes from the west Africans.

Emmanuel Pappoe, a silver medallist at the youth team World Cup in Argentina three years ago, gave Ghana a 36th minute lead with a right-footed shot before Stephen Appiah, who plays in Italy for Juventus, rattled home a spectacular second in stoppage time.

Coached by 1982 World Cup winner Claudio Gentile, Italy hit back shortly after the break through Giampiero Pinzi and Gilardino denied Ghana a precious victory with his late leveller.

Ghana, making their first appearance at the Olympics since 1992 when they took bronze in Barcelona, were the first to threaten when a loose ball fell kindly for Emmanuel Osei only for the marauding defender to fire over the bar.

Second best to their Italians opponents in terms of skill and technique, Ghana played to their strengths and their willingness to work hard for each other almost produced the opening goal in the 28th minute.

Appiah, who first played for Ghana seven years ago at the age of 16, found space on the right wing and his dangerous cross to the back post was intercepted by Daniel Bonera just as Asamoah Gyan was about to pounce.

Italy, whose senior side were knocked out in the first round at Euro 2004, were happy to sit back and hit Ghana on the break and a swift counter-attack nearly broke the deadlock on the half hour.

Giuseppe Sculli cut inside from the left and his low right-footed shot rolled inches past the post.

Ghana responded by taking the lead six minutes later.

Appiah, seeing plenty of the play wide on the right, swung over a cross which wrong-footed Italy's defence and Pappoe swept the ball home from eight yards out.

With the first-half close to an end, Appiah won possession in midfield and appeared to be boxed in by several Italy defenders, but the tough-tackling midfielder carved his way out before smashing a 25-yard shot past Ivan Pelizzoli.

Italy, whose football federation placed so much importance on the Olympic tournament that they delayed the start of their domestic season by two weeks, rolled their sleeves up and halved the deficit four minutes into the second-half.

Emiliano Moretti, who recently joined Spanish side Valencia, crossed from the left and Pinzi stole in at the back post to send an angled shot into the far corner.

After Appiah fired into the side-netting, Italy had a strong claim for penalty turned down when Owu caught Daniele De Rossi as he came rushing out to block the Roma midfielder.

Italy retained the momentum and their late pressure finally told when Gilardino broke the offside trap and tucked home from close range after Owu had blocked his first effort.

Simone Del Nero might have nicked a dramatic winner for Italy, but the Brescia midfielder fluffed an easy chance on the stroke of full-time.

In the group's other match, Paraguay defeated Asian powerhouse Japan 4-3 to open their Olympic campaign with a deserved win.

The draw leaves both Ghana and Italy on one point behind group leaders Paraguay, who beat Japan 4-3 in Thessaloniki.

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