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Pierre's World Cup Diary


When it comes to football, Italy are Europe's American in this one sense: Overconfident, oversexed, underachieving. They're supremely un-Italian in this respect: conservative, dull, tasteless but for the swarthy sweaty-hair look. Luckily for them they're facing sacrificial-lamb Ghana. But don't underestimate Italy's magical ability to insist on 0-0 ties. (Not likely here).

7... The Italians are taking the game deep into Ghana territory. They're in control. No surprise. Ghana is trying to flair its way into the game. Not the moment to do so.

10... Good chance for Ghana, free kick 25 yards from goal, a diagonal kick that bounces off the Italian goal and goes the other way to an attack that fumbles for the Italians: they had a goal all but scored, a mis-hit by an Italian inches from goal, and another attempt that lumbers just outside the post... not good defending by the Ghana keeper.

16... Not yet a game. we have some midfield play, and just now a nice, nice cross to Amowa's head, a header wide, defended by Italy. The follow-up Ghana throw-in was not well executed. Italy on the ball, and an odd rush bu a Ghana player, knocking out an Italian throw in deep in Italy's half.

21... Could it be? Ghana is doing the allegedly impossible: it's holding off Italy, controlling the ball half the time, and just now Totti played an inexcusably slapdash act inside the Ghana box, mulling over what should have been a direct kick for goal. Instead, he gave Ghana time to set up for a successful block. Totti's corner sailed into keeper Kingston's hands. The Italians attack again, scrum in the middle of the Ghana box, kick feebly, again Kingston grabs it.

24... But Italy has turned it on now. Three, four straight attacks, dumping the ball deep in the Ghana half from afar, and going for it. Ghana is against the wall. Goal Italy, at this rate, within moments.

25... Ghana not too shabby either.

28: This is what I like about Ghana's Black Stars: they fight for the ball, they go for every single contested one (unlike the flabby flat-footed Americans in the previous game), they battle as if they were up against any old team from the neighborhood, not Superpower Italy. That's the way to play--like Ghana's Gyan launching a 20-footer just wide of goal, and now Michael Essien all the way out of midfield, down the almost-middle, shooting just wide; and again from Emmanuel Pappoe, a sadly overshot rocket high above goal: The Italians are stunned. We're gratefully entertained. Can it be? It's been all Ghana the last few minutes.

33... Oh! Kingston just saved a cruise missile from Towering Tutti, then he comes out and looks helpless against another shot that fortunately for him sails off into the sunset (the German sun today dips beyond the horizon at 9:30 p.m., just about now).

34... So Totti figures: It almost worked the first time, why not again? But from 40 yards out, no dice. Luca Toni takes it down the far wing, shoots from the edge of the box, and Kingston makes his sixth save of the day. Get this man a Snickers' bar.

37... So the momentum has shifted in Italy's favor, it's been a good game so far, and Ghana doing well to settle things down a bit.

38... And resume the attack: a good but weak header on Italian goal by Michael Essien.

39... Totti, off the corner, to Pirlo, 35 yards out, a diagonal shot on goal, and... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Superb. 1-0 Italy.

42... Full disclosure: for all my antipathy for Italy, and my unambiguously heterosexual disposition, I am in love with Luca Toni, if only because my son's name is Luka, and Luca Toni, a late bloomer at 28, was a leading scorer for his club and the entire top Italian league this year. Plus, he's been putting on a good show.

45... Yet another corner for Itraly, who have taken over control of this game.

Halftime, well-deserved lead for Italy.

46... Here we go... an Italy breakaway, a pass in the open toward gole, but the keeper is there.

50... But five minutes in, a slower start until Gilardino took a through ball from midfield, dribbled to the far side of the penalty box and shot, forcing the keepr to make another good save.

Italy has shown us some good energy here and there, Luca Toni and Totti have done the job, as has Piero obviously, but it's been a matter of splash and dash rather than sustained pressure and certain victory. Ghana's energy on the other foot has been more sustained and full of surprises, liuke this smashing sudden strike from Essien far outside the middle of the box, forcing a fabulous save. All around one of the more entertaining games so far.

55... Old Totti is out after falling, Camoranesi is in for him. Nice to see the grandpa of football get a few shots in.

57... No wonder the US team lost: President Bush, ESPN commentator just said, called the team before the game. What else do you need to be deflated? He probably thought they were playing the kind of football they play in Houston.

60... Ghana still pressing, and still very,very much in this wonderful game. Corner, too long. Essien tries a shot almost from midfield (remember Pele's almost goal from BEHIND the half-way line in 1970? Must be on Essien's mind.)

61... Cynical, bitchy tackle from Camoranesi, who thinks this is an ice hockey game.

64... At this point in the game we don't quite have a second-half lull, Ghana won't let that happen, but we do have an Italy side that has fallen back to its old Italian dullard ways of squashing down and playing like a heavy wet sponge in back of its own end. If Ghana's Essien keeps getting fed those balls, even from far out, he's going to land one of those in back of the Italian net.

65... The first half could live on one goal. This second half cannot.

66... Save of the match, Kingston! A through ball from Camoranesi from midfield to a Perrota running toward the left side of goal, inside the area, squares, shoots, and a diving Kingston snags what looked like a certain goal into a royal save.

68... OK, I have to agree with 58 million Italians here: it was too close to call an off-side on an Italian break-away, and the rule book says: when in doubt, abstain from raising the flag. The line judges always read that rule backward. They're as itchy to use their flag as trigger happy cops are itchy to use their Tasers. It immobilizes games, to no one's pleasure but the line judge (and the defense).

74... Not as good a half as the first, we can now say it without reserve, and now we have an Italian actor down and calling for the stretcher... but again, the off-side call was too close on the Italian attack. So maybe you can't fault the Italians as much as the judges for slowing this game down and nailing it to a premature cross.

The actor is up and ready to resume his role on stage.

77... Ghana should try to enter the Italian zones a bit deeper before rocketing shots.

78... Sonofabitch! Sonofabitch! A Ghanian player is taken down, tripped, smashed by an Italian player in the box, and the ref shakes his finger no no no! what the blessed virgin's frock! Botched call, bitchy response, Ghana has the right to an uprising now.

80 Essien tries again and shoots wide.

82... Breakaway Italy, 2-0 by Iaquinta... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

A huge mistake by a Ghana defender who tired a pass back to his keeper, turned into a ball for Iaquinta who took it, rolled it past the keeper laterally and shot into the wide open middel of the goal for the 2-0 lead, the end of Ghana's hopes, and a big thick nail into the US hopes too.

FIFA claims replays show the ref's no-penalty call earlier to have been absolutely right.

Ah. Iaquinta scores, and now gets a yellow card for throwing the ball away, as if was the one entirled to frustration!

Ghana did not play badly. This game is over, but these black stars can beat the United States, and they will even have a good chance against the Czechs if they play like this for their next two games--and if they manage to calibrate Essien's shots about five to eight yards closer in. Italy was good here and there, nice energy, but still lacking in the sort of team play that can take them all the way. Flash without depth for now (as opposed to Brazil's Flash AND depth). This group is nowhere near decided despite Italy and Czech atop it with three points each. A fine game overall.

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