Section 1: Toni answers critics

By Paul Kennedy
Managing Editor
Soccer America

Luca Toni came into the 2006 World Cup as one of the tournament's most hyped players. having scored 31 goals for Fiorentina in the 2005-06 season, the most goals by a player in Serie A since 1957.

But Toni didn't score in Italy's first four games at the World Cup, drawing criticism from the hypercritical Italian media. Finally, in the Azzurri's quarterfinal match against Ukraine, Toni broke out, setting up Gianluca Zambrotta for Italy's first goal before scoring two himself as the Azzurri cruised into the semifinals with a 3-0 win.

"To be honest, I felt that I was being targeted," said Toni. "I received a lot of criticism. I read that I wasn't training properly and that I didn't get on properly with my teammates. I can accept comments about my play but not about my behavior. It is so easy for those journalists to heap praise on me now."

Toni became the eighth different player to score for Italy at the World Cup and ended a six-game drought with the Italy national team.

Toni, who was particularly upset with the Italian press for claiming he said he wanted to leave Fiorentina for a bigger club, was thankful for the support of Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

"The coach always had confidence in me, even when I wasn't scoring," said Tni, who has none goals in 22 games for Italy. "I was playing for the team as a whole and Lippi told me, 'You've always got goals and they will come.' He was constantly reassuring me."

Maradona absent in ticket dispute

If you missed TV images of Diego Maradona cheering for Argentina in the stands during Friday's Germany-Argentina game, it was because the Argentine great wasn't at the game. Maradona missed the game at Berlin's Olympiastadion because a member of his entourage was denied entry and Maradona didn't want to go to the gme without the companion.

Maradona had been given four VIP tickets for the match but wanted to bring in an an unidentified fifth person whom FIFA had already declared was not welcome.

"It has been reported that Diego Maradona arrived at the stadium and then left again because not all of his entourage was allowed in," FIFA spokesman Markus Siegler said. "This was the decision of Diego Maradona alone. Maradona's delegation was told in advance that one particular person would not get a ticket because this person has been rude repeatedly during the World Cup and even became almost physically aggressive. We're sorry if Diego Maradona didn't want to accept that. He and a certain number of companions are welcome at any time."

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