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Golden Goal Shakes Italy

June 18, 2002

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ROME (AP) _ After sweating through two hours of a knockout second-round game, Italian fans saw hopes for a fourth World Cup title wither away with a heart-chilling overtime goal by South Korea.

Italy has been gripped by a heat wave for several days, but the entire nation seemed frozen in disbelief and disgust when the Koreans, whipped up by a wild home crowd, scored three minutes before a shootout to win 2-1.

``I can’t speak. I’m too sad,″ said Carla Piermani, a university student.

After their beloved Azzurri came within two minutes of advancing to the quarterfinals, South Korea tied it and forced the match into overtime in Daejeon, South Korea.

Tension and sweltering heat combined to bring the atmosphere in Italy during the game to near-boiling. In Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, where fans watched on a giant screen, at one point the temperature was registered at 106 degrees. City workers sprayed water from hoses to cool down the soccer lovers.

When the golden goal was scored, many fans kicked their water bottles in disgust and walked out of the square dejectedly.

Millions of people left work at lunch time to follow the game with friends and family at home or at local cafes and bars with TV sets. Travelers stopped in train stations or airports to catch the action on screens set up for them.

Italy had a poor showing in the first round, where the team scraped through after winning just one of its three games. The memory of a stinging defeat 36 years ago to Korean players _ from North Korea in the 1966 World Cup _ contributed to the mood of trepidation.

But there were those who actually viewed the match as relief from stress. Education Minister Letizia Moratti encouraged students scheduled to take final exams on Thursday to watch the game as a way to relax.

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