17 June, 2006

Last Men Standing: Italy 1 USA 1

Having seen Ghana play so well today, Italy's performance against them is even more impressive in retrospect, and they are expected to beat a poor USA team with ease.

They make a slow start, however, allowing their opponents to come at them. The Americans look better than they did in their capitulation to the Czechs, and test the famous Italian defence from the start.

The Italians remain firm and manage to craft a few excursions on the break, but don't get far until 22 minutes in, when they win a free kick near the right edge of the box. The ball is punted into the box and Alberto Gilardino heads it in for a goal against the run of play.

The USA remain positive and are rewarded when the Italians descend into a minute of chaos. Firstly Cristian Zaccardo has an aberration in the box and bundles a cross past his own keeper. Seconds later Daniele De Rossi and Brian McBride challenge for a ball in the air. The Italian elbows his opponent in the face and the referee has no hesitation in sending him off. The American also leaves the pitch with blood pouring, but is able to return without much delay.

With ten men and already facing a barrage, Italy are in trouble. They shore things up by replacing Totti with Gattuso. This succeeds in quietening the Americans a little. They still make chances - Pablo Mastroeni's long-range effort goes just over the bar and Nesta blocks a shot from Claudio Reyna - but the Italians look to be comfortably containing the threat.

Just before half-time the Americans lose a man too, Mastroeni's reckless challenge winning him a red card. In the commentary box David Pleat insists that the sending-off is harsh, despite several replays demonstrating the vicious nature of the two-footed, studs-up ankle-breaker. The teams go in with the match level on goals and on personnel.

The madness continues in the second half. Eddie Pope is next to go after receiving a second yellow card just a minute in, and there is almost another own goal when Bocanegra heads against his own crossbar.

The Italians surely now have the advantage, and seek to exploit it by bringing on Alessandro del Piero. The Americans are not beaten, however, and on 62 minutes Brian McBride has the best chance of the half so far, shooting wide of the goal.

David Pleat claims the 9-man team are playing a 4-2-3 formation. It is unclear what position the goalkeeper is covering. When challenged, Pleat decides that he meant to say 3-4-1. Peter Drury fares no better, shouting "Equaliser!" when DaMarcus Beasley appears to put the Americans 2-1 up. The goal is ruled offside so he is proved, in a sense, right.

Italy are finding it difficult to make anything at all. Del Piero finally gets a good chance on 72 minutes but Kasey Keller is equal to it, saving with a magnificent stretching leap. It is hard to believe that Italy are the team with the extra man, as the Americans maintain possession and tease the ball forward when they can.

Towards the end neither team looks capable of anything much. Both are plagued by tiredness. After 86 minutes Del Piero looks to be about to score but the ball is cleared heroically. This finally heralds a spell of Italian pressure, with all of their remaining players attacking the USA goal, but they have nothing left to give bar a few aimless punts.

The USA will be much happier than Italy at the draw, but the main consequences are that Group E remains very much undecided, and the impact that the suspensions might have on the final games.

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