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World Cup Diary



A fabulous World Cup day, the best yet, with two fantastic matches: a classic in the Ghana upset of the Czech Republic, and a near-classic in the 1-1 US-Italy draw that makes me take back every nasty thing I said about Team USA, though it remains, as said, uncut below. True enough, the US has yet to score a goal of its own, but considering the way the US got its one goal disallowed on a technicality going back nine centuries, it's hard to say they didn't deserve their score and more. I'm written out. We're celebrating the draw as if it was a win, and it's tiome for New York strips on the grill.

We wanted a classic match, we got it--and it isn't the US-Italy match-up, yet to be played. Ghana played like gods, Czech Republic played as if the absence of the Great Koller had reduced them from an F-18 to a backyard hornet's nest. This is the upset of the tournament. Whether it encourages the American team to take it to the Italians will be decided in the next couple of hours. As I noted before the game with Czecholslovakia, and note again now, keeping Eddie Johnson out of the line-up at the start is risky; fielding a team so heavy on age in the name of experience, including Keller in goal (he's a half step behind in a position where being one-tenth behind is fatal), is a bad sign. But June 17 hasn't been the kindest date to the Italians, either. June 17, 1954: Switzerland beat the Italians, 2-1 at the group stage, and 22 years later France beat them 2-0 to eliminate them from that year's World Cup. But those were strong teams, whereas the Americans have yet to proove that they have character, let alone the ability to keep up with Italians for for 45 minutes on a European picth (to say nothing of 90).

[Note to Ohdave, if you're reading this: thanks for the heads-up on the comment glitch, which should be fixed here].

The players are taking the field... always a moving moment no matter who's playing. The anthems. My wife's comment: "How can they keep from bawling?" My comment: "How can they keep from bawling?" The fan in the stands' comment: "How about me, singing the Italian national anthem in my underwear?" Now that, ladies and gentlemen of Garibaldi lineage, is style. Note the look of concern on that young US fan's face... I'd like to say that 300 million Americans are wearing that face, but word has it 299 million are in line at McDonald's at the moment, which shows you where their priorities are.

2... GREAT SIGN: The crowd is behind the US... Should we be glad? Right-wingers tend to outdo left-wing fandom the world over; German right-wingers have come out in force for this game, from the sounds of it, but what the hell. Let the players use the crowd to their advantage. The Italians are not yet overwhelming. That's another good early sign.

5... Totti just landed himself a yellow for a late tackle on Dempsey that smothered a US assault. Let's hope the ref doesn't smother this game the way the ref almost did the previous one. The Americans are doing well so far though.

7... Here's why the Americans are not Ghana-quality today: if they keep playing this deliberate back-passing to their own back three's and to their keeper, they'll fall right back into their first game's trap of letting flat-footedness and fear dictate their play, instead of Ghana-like fearlessness and verve. We're not there yet, but watch for those back-passes: there goes another one.

9 Nice work by the Americans to work that ball into the penalty box and force an Italian scrum to clear it, into an off-side and a turn-over favoring the US...

10... The Americans are moving the ball into the Italian half well enough, but their peripheral plays are nonexistent: no vision. Luca Tony, my only and big favorite on the Italian side, just dueld with an American in the US penalty box--and lost!

12... Italy just had their best chance, a Totti free kick from outside the box, shooting in, headed toward goal, but wide and off-side. US recovers? No, a sloppy turn-over to Italy.

14... A US attack taken down at the box's arc, a US free kick, a big chance. It bumps off the wall for a corner. If the Italians think they're deceiving the US into thinking they have a game going, they're wrong: It's the Italians who are lulling themselves right up against the wall, as with this chance by Bobby Convey from inside the box, a screamer that overshot. Big chance lost by the US, but good action, good retuirn-business into the Italian half. The stats show 50-50 ball possession. Don't believe it. The US is in control. For now.

17... Terrible Dempsey pass and turn-over deep in the Italian half, on the far wing. BUT HE REDEEMS HIMSELF WITH A SHOT THAT JUST missed goal!

18... The Italians do look as if they've had one glass of Chianti too many before the game, with their pre-celebration of a thrashing foretold. They're slow off the mark, unable to connect with each other, unable to keep the US from penetrating. The Italian half so far has been their Monte Cassino circa 1943. But the US is also making bad passes and drawing unnecessary yellos: Eddie Pope now.


Zacardo took a free kick not far outside the US box, a diagonal, low shot that finds Alberto Gilardino diving for the superb header into goal, and the US team stupidly tring to trap him in an off-side call that never came. Why the Americans would do such a thing when they have the bulk and the momentum to keep playing mano-a-mano, go figure: this is bad thinking by the Americans, who are wrong if they intend only to outbrawn the Italians.



GOOD REFEREEING: It was a blatant, nasti elbow from Daniele DeRossi on Broan McBride, who had to leave the pitch with a bloody face. But back to that goal: an own goal by Zaccardo, who back-heeled a US free kick from Claudio Reyna. The US will take it. It happens. Let's hope Zaccardo's fate won't be like Andres Escobar's, who scored an own goal in the US's 2-1 win over Colombia at the 1994 World Cup, went home, and was shot dead. Meanwhile, the US has returned to the attack.

34... Luca Tony has been quiet in this game, but so have the Italians as a whole. This is turning into a gave almost similar to the Ghana-Czech match-up where the Ghanians also played a man up, but not so early in the game. And here's another surprise: Francesco Totti is out. The Italians play a free kick from midfield, pass it back up to an Italian attacker at the edge of the box, who lobs it terrifically above evryone for what looked like a goal, but Luca Tony was inside the US line and was called off-side: accurately? Not sure. Fortunately? Sure.

39... Fewer attacks, less imaginative play on the Americans' part: they're not playing as if they're a man up, and that's not encouraging. The Italians are playing better now that they're a man down.

41 Pablo Mastroeni just took a straight shot on the Italian goal from 30 yards out that just skimmed the cross-bar and gave Marcello Mastroianni in Rome, or in his grave (is he dead yet?) a heart attack. Actually Marcello died 10 years ago.

44 ridiculous: Mastroeni of the US just got red-carded for what was obviously a cynical tackle on Pirlo, but not quite one deserving a red: we see these tackles six times a match, god damn it.

17 fouls on the Italians, 7 on the Americans. shots: 6 for the US, 3 for Italy. The first half comes to an end. We're returning to a more open game for sure, but we're also seeing a US side that has been more violent than necessary (despite that bloody tackle by the Italians) and less elert, less precise, then absolutely necessary to beat the Italians.



They're back on the pitch, the flash-bulbs are going, the Italians have the ball in the center. And off we go for the second half...

NOW THIS IS INSANE... Eddie Pope just tackled an Italian from behind, yellow-carded, his second of the game, that's an automatic red, and Eddie Pope is out of the game. The TV announcers are wrong: a late tackle from behind is an automatic yellow. It's deserved. Pope was fool to not think twice, when he was in the locker room, about hiw second-half strategy--as should all players with a booking going in. It is poor judgment from Pope. It may be a harsh call, but it's by the book. The ref has made poor calls elsewhere in the game, namely that first US red card, which was eggregious. This call is not one of those. (Andrea Pirlo was taken down; see below)


WHERE THE HELL IS EDDIE JOHNSON??? Conrad is coming in for the US.

51... And Italy takes a free kick, header on the cross-bar: the crossbar World Cup carries on undaunted. Lucky break for the US. The Italians are still playing as if they were carrying eight pounds of lead in each boot...

59... The Italians' boots have become seven pounds lighter in the last seven minutes, and the Americans are not finding their men.

60... My girls have decided that should the US win tonight, we're doing a grill--New York strips. My two year old son has not said what he wants. He has veto power./ And of course the Italians have the biggest veto in this. My darling Luca Tony is out. Too many off-sides. The Italians are still not finding their groove, and they're still not putting in Eddie Johnson. Warning: this commentary is about to sour.

62...Superb run by Donavan down the middle, sslapping it to McBride rushing laterally down the left wing, McBride shoots, a screamer wide. Another wonderful chance, unfinished. Come on now.

NOW THIS IS BULLSHIT; THIS IS RIDICULOUS. THIS IS FUCKED UP. I'M WITH ARENA: THIS IS INSANE: McBride took a shot well inside the box, another American was in front of ther Italian line but was not involved in the play, the ball was in the net. The goal was disallowed. The rule, I'm told, is that once the American moved and created an obstruction for the goalkeeper, the goal could be disallowed. Maybe so. But this is the first time this rule has been invoked since before the Magna Carta. Who the fuck are the refs in this, and don't they know that politcs end where the lines they're refereeing begin? We have the three main refs from Uruguay, the fourth is from Saudi Arabia, the fifth from Syria. Who the fuck made those decisions, sticking Arab refs on an American game? (And I'm speaking as an ex-Arab, by the way, so I'm entitled to making this call).

74... OK, I'd better settle down a bit: still got 15 minutes in this, we still have a chance, and the Italians are playing like the Italians I feard for their dullness: they don;t have it today. And don't forget: they're a man up, so give it to the Americans; they've responded to that last red card with the kind of verve we've been looking for. They're not giving up, they're not laying down... But the Italians are more controlling.

The devil incarnate

78...Good try, good ideas, good intensity, but McBride was just off by a few inches at the far post, on the receiving end of a US cross. Let this not turn into a cross for the US; Keller in goal just made his match's best save.

79... danger zone for the US. Italy corner. But danger zone for Italy too.

80... Let it be said, regardless of the outcome of this match: The Americans have redeemed themselves and then some. The Czech game was an anomaly, a forgettable first scene in a story the Americans have turned to their advantage. They have not been outplayed by the Italians in this; they have outplayed them. But the Italians are not up just one man. They're up four, if you count the refs.

83...A middling Italian attack, a US defense that has gone Italian on Italy's clenched asses.

No no no, I yellow-card myself for excessive unsportsmanship. The Italians on the attack again. Where is Eddie Johnson?. Italy corner kick.

86... It looked like an almost certain sure goal for the Italians, who scrummed around the Keller goal until a American boot made mush of the ball, clearing it for a corner. But this has also been the World Cup of last-minute goals, and usually for the favored teams: Germany did it, Australia did it against Japan. Italy are pressing, pressing... and the Americans have lost control.

88.. I quote the ABC announcer: " I will say this: I am surprised you haven't seen an Eddie Johnson in the game." Bruce Arena, you may bge a close second to that ref's judgment from Nuremberg, no matter what city this game is set in.

A draw will not be that helpful. I'm surprised the ref didn;t call a penalty on that Italian dive. The US need to clamp down. Clamp down. A draw may not help, but it speaks loudly about the American effort, a man down for just about half this game. Terrific display, and grittily sustained. They have a good chance going in against Ghana. And that's it, amazingly enough.

This is the American team we've been waiting for, the kind of team that doesn't take anything lying down, that keeps at it, and that manages to keep the mighty Italians to a draw, on European soil, in a game the Italians had to be thinking was a must-win for them: Czech will be out for blood against the Italians, but so will Ghana against the United States. This is now the most exciting group at World Cup 2006.




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