This is the eleventh and penultimate post in a weekly series highlighting Italy’s four World Cup wins from qualifications to the finals. Read the tenth post here.
The knockout stages would feature a big change at this World Cup - the loss of the “Golden Goal.” Instead, if the game was tied at the end of regulation, the teams would play two 15 minute overtime periods, regardless of any goals. Following this, the match would be determined by a penalty shootout.
The new Added Extra Time (a.e.t.) rule alone would be applied once in the Round of 16 and again in the semifinals until a result was produced. The a.e.t. rule plus penalty shootouts would be used once in the Round of 16, twice in the quarterfinals, and most memorably in the final.
|A photoshopped pic is worth 20 cards|
Noteworthy for all the wrong reasons, the matchup of Portugal vs. the Netherlands played in Nuremberg was a big black eye in the tournament. Referred to as the “Battle of Nuremberg,” it was led by Russian referee Valentin Ivanov, who never had control of the game and compensated by painting the field in yellow and red. To be fair, the two squads would be the headliners for a “Players Behaving Badly” series. The combination was shameful, spectators who watched probably felt more than a little dirty at the end, when there were only nine players left on each side. The 16 yellow cards given out actually tied a single match record, but the four red cards, all a result of double yellows, became a new World Cup record for a single match. A terrible precedent to have set, a horrible legacy for the millions of children watching worldwide, to see their heroes behave like this. Shameful.
|A tough and controversial match|
The Round of 16
The teams who qualified for the Round of 16 were: Germany, Sweden, Argentina, Mexico, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, Ukraine, England, Ecuador, Portugal, Netherlands, Brazil, Ghana, Spain, and France.
Italy was to face Australia on June 26th in the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern in front of a crowd of 46,000. This was a bit of a grudge match, not for the Socceroos, but for their coach, Guus Hiddink, who had coached the South Korean team in 2002 that controversially sent Italy home. Still, this match would generate its own controversy, even if Italy ended up prevailing over the controversy this time around.
Let me start by saying that some people say that bad ref calls even out. I do not always agree with this. Maybe over all eternity, maybe, but not always in a single game or even a single tournament does this hold true. However, in this match, it did. Spanish ref Luis Medina Cantalejo, for the mistakes he made, redeemed himself, whether or not intentionally, and I call it even.
Italy had some great chances, particularly in the first half. Mark Schwarzer in goal for Australia almost singlehandedly kept the Socceroos in the game. And in the end, they would dominate possession, 59%. But Italy had more chances, with eleven shots, six on goal, compared with eight chances, four on goal for Australia. Buffon was also key at the other end of the pitch, especially with the help of captain Fabio Cannavaro who was having the tournament of his career.
It was a very physical match, and it could easily be argued that the ref overlooked a number of fouls. As it was, Australia were called for 26 fouls to Italy’s 17. (How many times can you blow the whistle, after all?) Yellow cards were given out to the following Italians: Fabio Grosso in the 29th, Gennaro Gattuso in the 89th, and Gianluca Zambrotta in stoppage time. The Australians who saw yellow were Vince Grella in the 23rd, Tim Cahill in the 49th, and Luke Wilkshire in the 61st.
|I normally associate red cards with Materazzi, but this one was more than questionable|
But the biggest controversy was the red card given to Marco Materazzi in the 50th minute. Bresciano had the ball and collided with Zambrotta on his left. As he was falling, Materazzi was sliding in from the right, and Bresciano completed his fall after jumping over Materazzi. It was a harsh call in hindsight, but these things happen. It also left the Azzurri down to ten men against a very competitive Australian side for nearly half the match.
But as I said, sometimes these things work out. In the last minute of stoppage time, Grosso came running into the box only to go down over a prone Lucas Neill, who had fallen after a missed challenge. Cantalejo pointed to the spot, which some felt was unfair. Totti, whom Lippi had subbed on in the 75th for Del Piero despite fitness concerns and coming back from injury, stepped up to take the resulting penalty.
With all of Italy on his shoulders and only the prospect of 30 minutes of a.e.t on ten men to make up for error, Totti took the penalty as coolly as if he was in the park with friends… and scored. Italy 1, Australia 0 in the cruelest of timing, just before the final whistle. The Socceroos were going home devastated, and probably more deserving than some of the other teams who were going to the quarterfinals. But Italy were deservedly going to the quarterfinals with that one masterstroke from Totti, who by medical standards, should not have even been there. Magical.
As if the Calciopoli verdict had not been enough of a distraction, the day after eliminating Australia, news reached the team that recently retired Juventus defender and former Italian National Gianluca Pessotto had fallen from a 4th story window at Juventus headquarters in Torino. He survived, but suffered multiple fractures and internal bleeding. The apparent suicide attempt really shook up the team, particularly his five Juve teammates who knew him well, some of whom flew to Italy to visit him before the next match. But rather than let this distract them, as I mentioned last week, this, along with the Calciopoli debacle, became a unifying force, giving the Azzurri greater purpose and an even stronger determination to triumph in the face of tragedy.
|Another tragedy that united the team|
Italy would face off against the Ukraine on June 30th in the quarterfinals in the FIFA World Cup Stadium in Hamburg before a crowd of 50,000. Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere had relatively light duties, showing cautions to three Ukrainian players: Vyacheslav Sviderskyi in the 16th, Maksym Kalinichenko in the 21st, and Artem Milevskiy in the 67th.
This was a match that Italy dominated from the beginning, with Zambrotta getting on the scoreboard in the 6th minute after taking a nice backheel pass from Totti. Lippi had chosen to play a 4-4-1-1 with Luca Toni as the lone striker, and it was working. Toni, the capo canonniere in Serie A that year, had been much criticized for not being able to score earlier in the tournament with two and three defenders hanging off of him the entire match. But on this day, he shook off the defenders and the demons and scored twice, in the 59th and 69th minutes. A decisive 3-0 win that the Azzurri would dedicate to their dear friend Pessotto.
And so the Ukraine, despite boasting former Ballon d’Or winner and AC Milan star Andriy Shevchenko in their starting eleven, were heading back home. And the Azzurri, against tragedy both personal and professional at home, were going to the semifinals of the World Cup.
Next week: read about the semifinals and final of the 2006 World Cup
This is part eleven of a twelve week series I originally wrote for the now defunct Italy World Cup Blog five years ago. The series will now appear here weekly as a tribute to the Azzurri teams of the past.
Our next match will be a friendly
Freiburg vs. Milan
Sunday, August 14th 16:30 CEST (10:30am EDT)
at Schwarzwald-Stadion, Freiburg, Germany