Penalties generate rewards for both Italy and Ukraine
Italy eliminated Australia 1-0 on a last-second penalty kick in regulation time by Francesco Totti, after the Aussies played evenly against the heavy favorites.
Ukraine is into its first-ever World Cup quarterfinal, thanks to a 3-0 advantage in the penalty shootout after 120 minutes of play against Switzerland.
For Italy, the penalty kick saved one player’s legacy.
Totti is one of the most popular players in Italy, but a failed run in the 2002 World Cup and a disgraceful spitting incident during the Euro 2004 tournament sliced into that goodwill.
After Totti broke his ankle in February, he was almost robbed of the chance to make an impact at this year’s World Cup. But Totti, who entered the game as a substitute in the 75th minute, made the most of his playing time.
The penalty kick was awarded with about 10 seconds left in the regulation, in a play that had many Australian and other non-Italian fans in the stands booing in protest.
Italian Fabio Grosso was dribbling into the penalty box when Australian Lucas Neill slid in front of him. Grosso tried to leap clear, but tripped over Neill’s back.
On the kick, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer dove the right direction, but couldn’t stretch high enough to stop the drive.
“I was calm and tranquil. I knew I was capable of scoring,” Totti told Reuters. “It’s my first World Cup goal, in the 93rd minute. It’s different from all the others.”
The penalty kick also put a halt to a coach’s attempt at a record.
Guus Hiddink, who has guided the Netherlands and Korea to semifinal berths in each of the last two World Cups, was looking to become the first head coach to lead different nations to the final four in three consecutive World Cup tournaments.
Though Australia was the underdog, the Socceroos pushed the Italians to the limit and were seconds away from forcing extra time.
It was four years ago that Hiddink-led Korea took Italy to extra time in their second-round match.
Ahn Jung-hwan won the match with a golden goal, which ended the game immediately. Under the rules this year, the teams continue playing through the entire overtime.
The Dutch coach couldn’t quite match his previous feats with Australia.
“I’m very disappointed with the loss, but I’m very proud of the way my players performed throughout the tournament, and particularly against Italy,” Hiddink was quoted as saying on FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “The team tried their hardest and we can have no regrets.”
But Switzerland will have regrets. It was eliminated despite not conceding a goal in regulation in all four matches.
Of course, scoring is no less important. Just ask Swiss players Marco Streller and Ricardo Cabanas, whose spot kicks went right at Ukraine goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskyi, or Tranquillo Barnetta, whose attempt went off the crossbar.
In the shootout, Ukrainians didn’t get off to a great start either, as their top striker, Andriy Shevchenko, was stopped by Pascal Zuberbuehler. But Artem Milevskiy, Serhiy Rebrov and Oleg Gusev all hit the net for the World Cup neophytes.
“It’s not that we play defensive football, we played how we’ve always played,” Switzerland’s coach Koebi Kuhn told The Associated Press. “But it’s also true we have high-quality young defenders, which is why we allowed no goals throughout the tournament. Of course, that doesn’t help us now.”
During the shootout, nervous Ukrainian coach Oleg Blokhin retreated to the locker room, but he can be thankful that his goalkeeper wasn’t nearly as jumpy.
“I had full control of my emotions until the Swiss failed to score for the third time,” said Shovkovskyi to The Associated Press. “Then I realized the next goal would clinch the game for us, and things got a little hectic for me.”
The victory was a personal redemption of sorts for Shovkovskyi.
The last time Ukraine had to go to penalties in a match, in a 2005 tournament match against Israel, the goalkeeper let in all five attempts in a losing cause.
Italy and Ukraine will square off Saturday for their first World Cup showdown.
by Yoo Jee-ho