The last time the USA met Italy was during the 2006 World Cup. Jorge Larrionda was one busy man. Before the match was over, the Uruguayan referee had issued three red card and four yellows, unleashing a storm of criticism as well as support over his controversial decisions. Larrionda officiated in the opening match between South Africa vs Iraq where he again faced some criticism.
The Italy match is remembered for its wild first half with passions running high. Brian McBride's profusely bleeding face, gashed by Daniele De Rossi's vicious elbow. The Roma playmaker was ejected with Pablo Mastroeni following suit for a two footed tackle. Eddie Pope was sent off in stoppage time of the first half after earning a second yellow for a late tackle. The half ended, 1-1 with Christian Zaccardo's 27' own goal erasing Alberto Gilardino's 22' header. The second half was tame in comparison.
The Kaiserslautern encounter forms the back drop to tomorrow's match between these two teams. There are six players leftover from the 2006 USA team while ten men were part of the Azzurri squad. The match is still remembered vividly by Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan.
"I remember that game," Standard Liege man Onyewu, 'Gooch' to his team-mates, said with a smile as the sun faded away behind the training stadium in Central Pretoria. "If this game turns out to be a physical battle like that one, that's not a worry for us. We can handle it. But these are two different teams and no two games are ever alike."
"That was one of the most memorable games in my career," said Donovan. "It gives me goose bumps just talking about it."
Both teams will be missing their stalwarts. Italy's Fabio Cannavarro, the 2006 Golden ball is out with a calf strain. Talisman Francesco Totti and Zidane's bogeyman Marco Materazzi did not make it to SA. For team USA, the defense looks very different with Frankie Hejduk, Pablo Mastroeni, and Steve Cherundolo not in the line up.
This will be Bob Bradley's first encounter as head coach against the wiles of Marcelo Lippi, whose 31 unbeaten streak came to an end after a deflating Brazil loss in February.
Lippi has been experimenting with the squad rotating a number of young players like defender Davide Santon of Inter, midfielders Simone Pepe of Udinese, Riccardo Montolivo of Fiorentina, and strikers Giuseppe Rossi of Villareal and Fabio Quagliarella of Sampadoria around the tried and trusted cohort of Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi, Daniele De Rossi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Grosso, Fabio Cannavaro, Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino.
I think Lippi will start Giuseppe Rossi today for two reasons: The Villareal second striker has been in great form, scoring a number of valuable goals for his club. He is very effective in getting behind the defense with his speed and footwork and can set up the taller Luca Toni with opportunities to score. The other reason is Rossi's US ties. He was born in Clifton, NJ to Italian immigrants and was given an opportunity for a national tryout under Bruce Arena but declined stating his desire to play for the Azzurri. It might make his appearance more compelling.
Bob Bradley will most likely start with the same set of players who won against a good Honduran team. Jonathan Spector with his Premiership experience is a better choice than Marvel Wynne. Jonathan Bornstein looked solid in comparison. Both will be responsible for thwarting attacks down the flanks through De Rossi and Camoranesi while Onyewu and Bocanegra plug the middle to isolate Luca Toni. Benny Feilhaber provided a spark off the bench for Pablo Mastroeni against Honduras and should anchor central midfield with Michael Bradley. They will have to track back to help their defense and also provide enough ball possession to be able to dish off to Landon Donovan.
The brunt of the attack comes from the trio of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, and Clint Dempsey. Jozy Altidore as the lone striker will have to use his physicality to overcome Giorgio Chiellini, fast filling Alessandro Nesta's shoes.
The USA looked very sharp against a lethargic Italy team in the first 20 minutes of their World Cup match till Gilardino beat the offside trap to set up the goal against the run of play. They will have to contend with Pirlo's set pieces again with Luca Toni, Zambrotta, Grosso, and Chellieni as proven threats.
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