Italy v USA
The Italians now had their chance of topping the group and breaking away, much like Portugal. The USA were either fooder or were keen to stamp authority into their game. The expectations were Italy would roast the Americans but from the start it was nothing like that. Within five minutes Francesco Totti put in a challenge on Clint Dempsey, in for the ineffective DaMarcus Beasley, and was booked, harshly. From then the USA put in overtime with grit and a fighting spirit in their attack and the Italians were defending with some concern for some 20minutes. That is because after that a freekick on the Italian right was curled in by Andrea Pirlo and the USA defence went to sleep as Alberto Gilardino stepped up and directed a low header past Kasey Keller. I wasn't impressed with Pirlo in the Champions League but he has been excellent so far in the World Cup. Pity Brad Friedel has retired from international football.
But the attacking character the Americans displayed pushed Italy back into their half and worked its way to obtaining a corner from the Italian left. We had a glimpse of Christian Zaccardo with arms outstretched denying Brian McBride movement towards goal which seemed unorthodox and was pulled up by the Uruguayan official Jorge Larrionda. Zaccardo then kept eye on McBride and when the corner came across he spotted the ball coming to him at the last moment, automatically aiming a left foot to clear but instead slicing it to the bottom left corner. Just as it went right for Italy it went bad, and it then became dangerously worse in practically one of the most inexplicable moments of the World Cup.
A high ball was challenged by a big Claudio Rayna leap and missed. The ball then came down to bounce again, this time to be challenged by Daniele de Rossi and McBride. De Rossi proceeded, during the challenge, to clearly elbow McBride on the face with such clear intent you would need Johnney Cochrane for legal representation, and even then the best you could expect is a reduction from a Death Row sentence to life. Official Larrionda had a clear view of it from yards and produced the red card, to which de Rossi had the gall to protest!! I had my doubts until the replay as I only saw from open play a USA player go down, so the referee was spot on. Or was on the spot. McBride had to receive treatment for a bloodied cut and came back on, with no fuss or bother.
Midfield rottweiler Gennaro Gattuso came on for Totti with eagerness and instructions to hold and direct attacks from central. Then, would anyone believe it, the Americans were down to ten themselves on the cusp of half time with Pablo Mastroeni diving in on Alessandro Nesta's left ankle. It looked to me a one-foot challenge and therefore a booking, but the commentary team said it was two, therefore it's a straight red.
The second half began and two minutes later yet another dismissal, though I find no fault with Mr Larrionda. Eddie Pope, already booked for a tackle on Luca Toni in the first half, brought down Gilardino for a second. At the least the tackle was rash and clumsily, so even if it had little contact with the player, its rashness was costly, Pope was off. So I expected an onslaught of Italian waves of attacks as they now held the one-man advantage, and they did but couldn't apply the finishing touch. Zaccardo came off for Alessandro Del Piero on 54mins, followed 7mins later by Toni's substitution for Vincenzo Iaquinta, all three subs used for the Italians. The USA played as if they had no disadvantage, Beasley came on for Dempsey on 62mins, like for like. Three minutes later Beasley broke into the box and shot past Gianluca Buffon but it was cancelled for McBride being in an offside position, not interfering with play but I assume he was deemed to have impeded Buffon's sight.
The Italians surged forward and formed an opening as Pirlo chipped over for Del Piero to stretch out a foot and touch the ball towards goal, denied by Keller's equally stretched hand. A draw is how it ended and it was excellent for the USA to keep the Italians from scoring again. Slight desperation seemed to be in the Italians' attack why they failed to score again, the number of chances they managed to create, and I feel their fans back home would have expected a win in the end.
The draw opens up Group E, with any two of the four going through. The Italians can replace de Rossi with Gattuso, depending he remains fit, so I see no loss there, and Marcello Lippi could either push up Totti to form a straight three upfront or bring in Iaquinta to preserve Totti's booking. With Gattuso, Lippi could bring in Camoranesi if Simone Perotta isn't fit, as he pulled up clutching his thigh after a tackle but carried on because all three subs were used. The Czech Republic are to possibly contend without Koller, Baros and now Lokvenc after his second booking in the tournament. Also they will miss Ujfalusi, at least three influential players unavailable to face practically a full strength Italy side.
I wionder if Ghana will appeal Gyan's booking yesterday but they will miss Muntari after his second booking. Even so, with the Americans to replace Pope and Mastroeni, Ghana's pace and midfield could trouble the USA to an eventual exit.