Italy 1-1 USA
This, of course, is the day that everything went, well, a bit crazy. If things hadn’t been bizarre enough earlier on in the evening between the Czechs and Ghana, the USA and Italy threw up an extraordinary match of bad temper, astonishing fouls, and, eventually, two goals. It all started relatively calmly, with Gilardino scoring a smart diving header. Five minutes later, Zaccardo scored what will probably turn out the be the bizarrest own goal of the tournament, slicing a routine clearance into his own net. Then suddenly, everything went a bit mad. First up, De Rossi, going for a routine header with Brian McBride, seemed to momentarily forget that he was a footballer and assumed the identity of Jackie Chan, and elbowed the unfortunate American so violently that he was left prostrate on the ground, covered in blood. He will of course, miss the next match, and can expect FIFA to extend his exile from the first team for longer than that.
So, it was advantage America, but they couldn’t take advantage of it. In fact, within fifteen minutes they’d contrived to turn it to their disadvantage. First of all, Mastroeni had what doctors call, “a sudden rush of blood to the head”, and lunged in with two feet on Pirlo. Ten men each. Deuce. Then, two minutes into the second half, Eddie Pope joined his team-mate in the changing rooms for a questionable second yellow card. Advantage Italy. Like Tim Henman at Winbledon, though, the Italians were unable to take advantage if their advantage and apply the killer blow to the Americans. They had the ball in the net twice, though both were correctedly flagged for offside.
What to make of this result? And what to make now, of this authentic “Group Of Death”? Well, for a start, all four teams are in with a shout. It’s also improbable that both the Czechs and Italy can still qualify. For the purposes of the record, I’ll go for Italy and Ghana to go through. I think that the Czechs defeat could be disastrous for their morale, and Italy, although held to a draw and lacking a cutting-edge (Luca Toni has singularly failed to impress so far), didn’t play badly against America, and Ghana were outstanding against the Czechs. They will be missing two players, but can still expect a decent performance. And all of it will leave Brazil in wait for Ghana. They couldn’t, could they…?