The day of reckoning came and went with TrueAzzurri prognosticating the 2 teams to make it out of Group E. Ladies and Gentlemen your King and Queen......Italy and Ghana!!!!!
Let's start with the USA vs. Ghana game. Knowing they ABSOLUTELY needed the win and all 3 points...Big Bruce pulls out the ever lame 4-5-1 lineup formation. Way to go Bruce, I'm sure Ghana felt like they had a 1-0 lead at Kickoff. This formation allowed for a crowded midfield that couldn't get a rhythm together, or a provide a good ball to McBride. The first goal was gifted by Reyna as he let the ball sit as his feet for an eternity only to have the ball stripped and coolly finished by Haminu in the 22nd minute. Reyna was sub'd a short time later with a twist of the knee or ankle from the challenge. And Bruce waisted no time in bringing in...midfielder Ben Olsen...no speedy Johnson needed down 1-0 Bruce? Dempsey tied up the game quickly after the change with a great feed from Beasely. The USA needed much more of that kind of play in this Cup. German ref Markus Merk made his mark on 2 occasions - first when he gave Essien a bizarre yellow that suspends him for the Brazil match (more on that later), and late in the first half when he awarded a penalty for a shove in the box on Onyewu. Appiah made no mistake and that sealed the fate for the Americans - Ghana goes through with a 2-1 win, and the USA only scores 1 goal in the Cup from their own feet.
Onto the Azzurri....Italy switched up formation and went back to old school Azzurri with a 4-5-1 of their own. A conservative approach facing a team boasting only 1 healthy forward - good to see Baros blazing around for the Czechs again, they sure could have use him against Ghana. 20 minutes in Nesta called for a sub holding his groin....and in came my worst fear on a soccer field, the red card, penalty spot giver, waiting to happen Marco Materazzi. Don't get me wrong, the job he does at Inter Milan is first rate, but he gets straight wacky when he pulls on the blues and goes out for Italy. So what does he do 7 minutes into his appearance...SCORES A BEAUTIFUL HEADER FROM A CORNER!!! The look on all the Azzurri's faces was priceless. It helped settle everyone down - and they way I saw it, even if he gave back a penalty he had earned his own credit! The game was well fought until the 45th minute when the Czech's Polak picked up his SECOND yellow card of the game, and unlike the USA/Italy game this was a no brainer. The second half was controlled by Italy, but Buffon was called upon to make some good saves. The minute we scored I realized the second half was all about Pippo, and sure enough come the 60 minute mark, the poacher himself appeared. And as if on queue he wasted 2 great opportunities...and also in Super Pippo fashion, he then took a pass at midfield, beating the trap, and scoring his first World Cup goal!!! Game over, Italy tops Group E with a 2-0 win over the 10 man Czechs.
So now we have our match-up for next Monday:
Italy vs. the Socceroos from Australia
Brazil vs. Ghana
Obviously I feel good looking ahead to Italy's game. The Aussies have some speed and experience, but will be put to the ultimate test against the seasoned Azzurri. As for Brazil vs. Ghana - this absolutely could have been the best knockout game...had Essien not been suspended. Hard to see the Black Stars holding Brazil in check with only Appiah marshalling the midfield.
Man of the Day: After all the stick he has taken in past National Team appearances, Marco Materazzi deserves it for his stellar display, scoring the first goal, and ALWAYS looking for and passing to Pirlo when he had possession in the back (that all said get well soon Nesta!!!).