A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis...
Bloodied But Unbowed: US Draws 1-1 With Italy To Stay Alive In World Cup
MIAMI — Two questionable expulsions.
A goal that was dubiously disallowed.
Physical play including a elbow the nose.
Questionable coaching moves.
Every possible obstacle was put in the US’ way to get a result from their second match at the 2006 World Cup.
Yet the gutsy 1-1 draw against the heavily favored Italians, combined with Ghana’s shock 2-0 win over the Czech Republic means that the US have given themselves a fighting chance of advancing from the group stage, something unthinkable after their poor display in the opener.
The US now need to beat Ghana on Thursday and hope the Italians defeat the Czech Republic in games played simultaneously on Thursday at 10am EDT. Start working on your cough on Wednesday.
The US made two changes from their opening game debacle. DaMarcus Beasley was predictably withdrawn and replaced on the right side by Clint Dempsey.
Carlos Bocanegra also cracked the starting lineup at left back. Eddie Johnson, however was suprisingly not in the starting line up. The Italians, for their part, were looking to build on their 2-0 win over Ghana in their opener and were looking for the playmaking of Franciso Totti and Andrea Pirlo to carry the day.
However the US made it very clear early on that this was not the same team that disappointed many against the Czechs. From the jump, they were very agressive through the midfield and the backline.
Oguchi Onyewu was especially physical with Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni, Italy’s starting forwards and the midfield looked to increase the tempo of the match by pressing in the midfield and attacking Italy’s defense.
Clint Dempsey immediately played his part by intercepting a pass and promptly drawing a yellow card on Totti for a late tackle, just five minutes in.
10 minutes in, the US’ offense began to assert itself. Dempsey received a pass on the right from Claudio Reyna and fed a low ball into Donovan in the box. The pass was just behind the Galaxy FC player and cleared away. Five minutes later Pablo Mastroeni tackled the ball away from Daniele De Rossi to Bobby Convey.
Convey looking to attack had four Italian defenders in front of him but a deflection came to Reyna then to McBride. Convey was taken down at the top of the area for a free kick which he subsequently fired off the wall and out for a corner.
The Italians cleared the ensuring corner to right side and it fell to Clint Dempsey. Dempsey attacked his defender with 4 step overs before centering into the area. The ball skipped past everyone to Convey who blazed over the bar with his off foot.
In the 18th minute Dempsey again tried to make his mark, this time receiving the ball from Reyna just at the top of the box on the right side. He fired a shot but it was just wide right of the goal.
The US was domintating play at this point. The midfield was allowing the Italians nothing and the backline dealt effectively with any balls played over the top. Onyewu was definitely growing in confidence though Eddie Pope picked up a yellow card tussling with Toni. Though both had a handful of each other’s jersey, Pope’s subsequent push earned him the plastic.
So it was completely against the run of play that the Italians took the lead. Pablo Mastroeni gave up a free kick on the right side. Andrea Pirlo curled in a free kick to Gilardino who headed neatly past Kasey Keller.
Eddie Pope was trying to play an offside trap and let him go but no one else was on the same page. Easy pickings for Gilardino and the US was in trouble, down 1-0.
Yet the US didn’t fold and kept attacking and in the 27th minute, Reyna drew a foul along the right side line from Fabio Cannavaro. Convey swung in the free kick and Cristian Zaccardo apparently feeling the pressure from McBride behind him, sliced the ball into his own net.
A comic piece of defending but a deserved goal for the US given their pressure and the Red White and Blue were back in business. 1-1.
Italy was clearly rattled and things got worse a minute later. De Rossi challenged McBride for a ball in the air and swung an elbow that would Shaquille O’Neal would have been proud of.
McBride fell to the ground, his nose bleeding profusely and De Rossi had the nerve to protest his red card. Italy was now down to ten men and momentum was squarely with the US.
However the Italians began their fight back on the half hour mark. Reyna lost the ball under pressure at midfield to Totti. A pass sprung Andrea Pirlo as he raced down the left side and fed Totti coming on a diagnal from the left sideline. His pass into the middle just eluded Luca Toni and rolled out for a goal kick.
A chance wasted but it let the US know that they still had to make the plays to take advantage of their numerical superiority. A Steve Cherundolo center to McBride at the left post was headed away for a corner but Bocanegra could only head the ensuing corner kick over the bar.
Italy reorganized in the 36th minute its lineup as Totti was withdrawn for interntional hardman Gennaro Gatusso, a more defensive midfielder. Italy appeared to already be packing it in to prepare for a defensive struggle and the Americans obliged by continuing to come at them.
After a 41st minute giveaway by Cannavaro, Bocanegra, pushed up in the attack, laid the ball back to a wide open Mastroeni about 30 yard out. No one closed him down and he bent a shot that was maybe 5 inches over the cross bar. Two minutes later, the US beautifully crafted another chance.
Spreading the field and taking advantage of their numbers, Reyna changed the attack from left to right where Cherundolo was waiting. He fed inside to Dempsey who passed to Donovan at the top of the area on the right side. Donovan brilliantly laid off a touch pass to Reyna who was cutting toward goal. The captain’s shot was blocked out for a corner but it was clear that the US was on top of this game and turning the screws.
It is here that the match took another dramatic turn and one that erased the momentary advantage the US enjoyed. As halftime began to dawn, the Italians gained control of the ball and began to work it out their end. As Zaccardo played the ball forward to Pirlo, Mastroeni came sliding in to win the ball but only caught Pirlo’s ankle.
A late challenge to be sure but, one worthy of a foul and possibly a yellow but not the straight red card issued. An incredulous Mastroeni trudged off while coach Bruce Arena fumed at the 4th official. Advantage lost and there were plenty of talking points as halftime (and some boos) arrived. 1-1.
If there was drama in the first half, the second half picked up right where the first left off. The half wasn’t even 2 minutes old when Pope slid to challenge for the ball. Replays show that Pope got the ball before getting Gilardino’s ankles but like a true opera star, the forward rolled around a couple times and hammed it up.
It apparently worked as the referee marched up to Pope and gave the UNC grad his second yellow card of the match. For the first time in his long distinguished international career, Eddie Pope had been sent off. Pirlo almost immediately restored Italy’s lead hitting his free kick just over the bar.
Note to Jorge Larrionda, the Uruguayan in charge of the match: You are not welcome in my house.
Now down to nine men, the US set about reorganizing their defense, bringing in Jimmy Conrad to take Pope’s place and sacrificing Bobby Convey. At the 53rd minute mark, Pirlo swung in a free kick that Bocanegra headed off his own crossbar.
Sensing a change in momentum, Italian boss Marcelo Lippi brought in super sub and former Italian and Juventus front man Allesandro Del Piero for Zaccardo.
The US wansn’t about to give up, however. In the 58th minute Reyna outfought Gattuso in the midfield for a 50-50 ball and turned towards goal with acres of space. But with Donovan to his left and McBride also an option, the captain let fly on a rather weak and off target shot from about 20 yards out.
Three minutes later the Italians had a chance Zambrotta fired high over the bar on the left side after being put in by Simone Perrotta. Vincenzo Iaquinta, Italy’s final substitution came in a minute later for Luca Toni, a move countered by the return of DaMarcus Beasley for Clint Dempsey who could be very proud of his contributions in his first World Cup appearance.
The US really should have taken the lead in the 62nd minute. Onyewu stole the ball and fed Donovan in the middle of the park who skipped right past Cannavaro and fed a streaking McBride. However, McBride’s left footed shot was woefully off target.
Then came another controversial decision to go against the Americans, this time in the 65th minute. After some sustained possession in the Italian end, Bocanegra fed DMB on the edge left area. Beasley took a touch and shot the ball. It bounced off GK Gianluigi Buffon’s arm and in the net. GOAL…or was it??
Replays show that McBride had taken up an offside position just in front of the GK and may have interfered with Buffon’s vision on the goal. Still, just like Mastroeni’s alleged red card, I’ve seen plays like that all over the world and had that been a goal, it would not have been an incorrect call.
Kasey Keller came up huge for the US in the 73rd minute. Andrea Pirlo saw Del Piero peel off a defender and made a delightful chip over the top. The Juventus man tried to flick the ball in but the stone wall that is Keller flew to his right to make miraculous save to keep the US in the game.
The US was clearly starting to tire but they still they had one more substitution and many US fans were clamoring for Eddie Johnson to make his appearance. McBride was clearly gassed and wasn’t making runs off the ball anymore.
With this game still there for the taking, this was a critical error in this writer’s view, especially in light of Keller’s repeated punts downfield to clear the mounting pressure the Italians were putting on the US goal. Johnson has speed and strength to burn. Why leave that on the bench when we need three points?
Yet the defense remained stout and they continued to frustrate the Italians. After surviving close shaves through Gilardino and Iaquinta the US survived to grab a crucial point.
When comparisons are made to the sham of a side that played on Monday, one cannot help to be impressed with the 180 degree turn around demonstrated by the Americans against a team that was supposed to run away with this match.
So, as the Black Box informed us, it comes down to Thursday. Every team in Group E is still very much alive.
The US needs to replace Pope and Mastroeni in the line up, do the job against an impressive Black Stars side and hope that the Italians’ ambitions include beating the Czech Republic to top this group.
This is why we watch.
This is why we love this game.
This is reality TV at its best.