Ghana 0-2 Italy
Italy. You never know quite what to expect, do you? They’re capable of getting knocked out by the best or the worst teams in the tournament, but they’re also capable of beating them. This evening’s match rounded off a trio of outstanding matches today. Having basked in the warm glow of Australia’s sheer delight at proving themselves on the world stage for the first time, and taken an enormous amount of pleasure from a Czech performance that thoroughly justifies their pre-tournament hype, I was wondering what tonight’s match between the unpredictable Italians and the near-unknown Ghanaians might bring. The answer: an open, entertaining match with two teams committed to attack, one outstanding goal, one terrible defensive error and with a huge question mark left at the end of it.
So, to address these points in order. Both teams came out fully expecting to attack, attack, attack. It looked more likely to pay benefits for Italy – particularly from corners, as the Ghanaian goalkeeper Kingston appeared not to have practiced catching crosses, or indeed at voyaging much more than two or three inches from his line. Whilst the Italians controlled much of the play, Ghana broke exceptionally quickly, and looked dangerous going forward. What they had in common with the other “developing” football nations was two drawbacks – the elusive “final ball”, and, when forward in greater numbers, the finish. The first goal was a terrific strike from Pirlo from the edge of the area, though the Ghanaian defence was guilty of not moving out quickly enough to shut him down.
For large periods of the second half, Italy were on the back foot. Ghana had a quite legitimate claim for a penalty turned down, and were pressing hard for an equalizer when Italy broke to score again. Kuffour’s back-pass was woeful, and Iaquinta had an easy enough job of rounding the goalkeeper to score. Ghana’s chance had gone, and by full-time they were virtually playing at walking pace.
Italy and the Czech Republic should qualify from this group. I don’t see any debate over that. But I wasn’t as impressed by Italy as I was by the Czechs. They still seem too often to be style over substance, and I’m not wholly convinced that they will be able to impose themselves against superior opposition. The Czechs, though, looked solid, consistent and exciting. Should they draw Brazil in the second round, they could cause the holders a major headache. As for Ghana… well, it’s all a learning curve, I guess – but this brings me back to the big question mark that I alluded to earlier in this post. Michael Essien. £22m. Really? I’m somewhat less than convinced.