October 12, 1998
By Gideon Long
UDINE, Italy -- They say hell lasts for eternity, but for Alessandro Del Piero, it came to an end after five months and 14 days.
The Juventus striker, who scored both goals in Italy's 2-0 victory over Switzerland on Saturday, said he believed a disastrous spell dating back to April was finally behind him.
"I hope this is just the start," he told reporters. "I would love to have enjoyed a night like this a few months ago (at the World Cup in France). I always believed I would score again, but these goals took a long time coming. A few too many games have passed for my liking."
On April 26 this year, Del Piero, 23, was in paradise.
His brilliantly taken goal in a 1-0 defeat of Inter Milan had effectively given Juventus the Italian league title.
He had his eye on the European Cup final against Real Madrid, and after that, on the first World Cup finals of his career.
But from then on, everything went wrong.
He failed to score again in the league, was almost non-existent in Juventus' 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Spaniards and pulled an adductor muscle towards the end of the match.
The injury and his loss of form wrecked his World Cup, and he returned to Italy as arguably the biggest flop of the finals.
Within weeks, Del Piero was suing an Italian scandal magazine after it published photographs of him on a beach rubbing sun cream into the back of a "mystery man."
The man turned out to be Del Piero's older brother, Stefano.
Then, in August, Del Piero started legal action against AS Roma coach Zdenek Zeman, who had named the Italy striker in an explosive interview in which he alleged drug use was widespread in Italian soccer.
The pressure seemed to be getting to the Juventus player, and he was sent off in a preseason friendly against Spain's Espanyol for an uncharacteristic retaliation.
The league season started, and still Del Piero could not find the back of the net.
Before Saturday, he had gone 17 matches without scoring in open play. His only goal came from the penalty spot in the Italian Supercup, a curtain-raiser to the league season.
But his double strike against the Swiss -- one, a classic striker's goal after Italy cut through the opposing defense and the other, a sweetly struck free kick -- may be just what he needs to rediscover his brilliant form from last season.
"Hallelujah Del Piero," ran the headline in Gazzetta dello Sport. "The national side has rediscovered a key player in his most difficult moment."
"Del Piero. Magnificent obsession," said Corriere dello Sport, praising Italy coach Dino Zoff for standing by his striker in his hour of need.
Del Piero's goals were the eighth and ninth of his international career and, more importantly, his first in a competitive match for Italy. His first seven goals had all come in friendlies.
The win, and Denmark's shocking home loss to Wales, puts a rejuvenated Italy in the driver's seat in Group 1 of the European championship qualifiers.
Italy has six months to wait
before its next match -- six months which Del Piero hopes to enjoy more
than the past six.