It starts off as a low whining sound. You turn the sound down on the television wondering whether the washing machine is playing up or whether the cat is ill, but the sound goes away as you mute it. Are the speakers playing up? Is there a problem with the reception? It can’t be. In the all-new digital television age, there’s no such thing as a bad picture. It’s either a perfect picture or no picture at all. And then you remember. It’s those bloody horns. They sound like somebody has managed to capture the sound of tinnitus and they’re playing it at a slower speed. South Africans are very fond of them, apparently. Sepp Blatter should ban them before the World Cup finals, unless he wants the tournament to be watched with the mute button pressed down worldwide.
Today has been a good day for The Confederations Cup – the opposite of the disastrous start that it had yesterday. This afternoon, Brazil scraped their way past Egypt with the aid of what looked like referee Howard Webb using the fourth official and, by extension, a television replay to give a last minute penalty. Tonight, meanwhile, we saw a thoroughly knockabout contest between Italy and the USA, a game with four goals – two of which are likely to be replayed as being amongst the finest of the tournament – and a sending off. It looked for almost twenty minutes as if the USA might upset the applecart. They remain an enigmatic team, the Americans. The majority of their players now play abroad, but we see so little of them playing in competitive matches against teams of their own ability that it feels as if it is difficult to assess just how good they are.
They matched the Italians for most of the first half, even after they lost Ricardo Clark, red carded for a high challenge after thirty-two minutes. Four minutes from half-time, though, they took the lead after Giorgio Chiellini took a kick at Jozy Altidore. Landon Donovan – who it seems has been around forever but is actually only twenty-seven years old – scored from the penalty spot to give the USA a lead at the interval. One might have hoped that the goal also might have momentarily stopped the plague of locusts in the the stadium, which would have been a blessed relief after an almost three quarters of an hour of solidly blaring away in the background but, if anything, it only made them worse.
In the second half Italy finally started to get going and asserted their authority but it took the introduction of Giuseppe Rossi just shy of the hour mark to make the difference. Born in the USA, Rossi chose Italy over his country of birth, and had been on the pitch for just one minute when he cracked in a thunderous shot from thirty yards out to bring Italy level. With a one man advantage and the Americans started to fade, and it felt like it would be only a matter of time before Italy won the match. With eighteen minutes to play they seized the advantage. Daniele Rossi firing in another fine shot from distance to give Italy the lead. The USA tried to rally but in injury time at the end of the match Alessandro Pirlo twirled his way past an exhausted American defender and crossed for Rossi to make it 3-1.
It was a flattering win for Italy, and it would be easy to blame the result on the naievete of the Americans, who ran out of steam with the equalising goal. Ultimately, though, the difference between the two teams seemed to be quality. Italy were capable of moments of dazzling poise and skill whilst the American team was a solid squad, but short on those capable of those individual moments of brilliance that win matches. One suspects that this American side is closer to the side that reached the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals than the side that crashed out in the first round in Germany three years ago. Italy, meanwhile, seem likely to have booked their place in the semi-finals – a win against Egypt will guarantee it. This evening, however, they looked like a team that needs a little more polish if they are to successfully defend the trophy which they surprised everybody by winning three years ago.