Italy, Ghana get the victories they need to move on
The Czech Republic, Italy’s opponent, was the desperate one. After falling to Ghana 2-0 last week, it had to win or at least draw Italy and hope to get some help. Then there were Ghana and the United States. Ghana just needed a win, but the Americans needed a win and a Czech Republic loss.
Italy and Ghana made things easy.
Italy scored the opening marker and stifled the Czech offense the rest of the way in a 2-0 victory. Ghana, thanks to a penalty kick in the dying minutes of the first half, eliminated the Americans with a 2-1 win, and became the first African nation to advance to the round of 16 this year.
Marco Materazzi, the 193-centimeter (6-foot-4) tall defender, got Italy on board with a header in the 26th minute. From then on, the Italians turned up their defensive intensity. Striker Alberto Gilardino and later his substitute, Filippo Inzaghi, were often the only men behind the half line in the Czech zone. The remaining nine players clogged the passing and shooting lanes for the Czechs.
The Czechs missed injured forward Jan Koller and suspended striker Vratislav Lokvenc, who had two yellow cards accumulated in the previous two matches. The Czechs went down a man when, in the waning moments of the first half, Jan Polak received a second yellow card.
Italy sealed the deal with five minutes remaining, when Inzaghi raced in from the half line with the Czechs caught out of position and scored on a two-on-none play.
The U.S. team drew Italy 1-1 last week, but that was on an own goal by Italy’s Cristian Zaccardo. No opposing player has put a goal into the Italian net.
After the match, Italy coach Marcello Lippi praised his team’s unity.
“This team has terrific spirit, probably the most fighting spirit I have had in any team,” he told Reuters. “We deserve to qualify. We played two great games to beat Ghana and Czech Republic, two very difficult teams.”
In the other Group E match, Ghana’s win wasn’t without controversy.
In the 22nd minute, Haminu Draman broke in alone on U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller for the opener after colliding with American captain Claudio Reyna, who was injured on the play. The United States, which has never won a World Cup match in which it trailed, tied things on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 43rd minute, but in injury time Oguchi Onyewu was penalized, on a borderline call, for pushing Razak Pimpong in the box. Stephen Appiah banged it home for the final score.
“We worked real hard to get back in the game,” said U.S. coach Bruce Arena to the Associated Press. “I am disappointed in the judgment of the referee in the penalty call.”
The scenarios were almost as complicated in Group F. With Brazil already assured a spot in the next round, the remaining three, Australia, Croatia and Japan, were vying for the final slot. Australia could get in with a draw, but only if Japan lost to Brazil. Croatia needed a win and a Japanese loss. Japan had to win and receive help in tiebreakers.
Despite opening the scoring, Japan bowed out to Brazil 4-1 and finished last in the group. Ronaldo scored twice in the victory.
In the other match, Australia drew Croatia 2-2 on a second-half tally by Harry Kewell. The Socceroos, led by former Korean national team coach Guus Hiddink, are in the round of 16 for the first time. They will play Italy midnight Tuesday. Brazil squares off against Ghana the next day.
by Yoo Jee-ho