Ten-men Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by nine-men USA on a dramatic night in Kaiserslautern.
Red cards for De Rossi of Italy, and Mastroeni and Pope of the United States distorted what had been an open, entertaining Group E encounter. But the real story of the match was the way in which the USA held on to secure a point despite playing the entire second half with only nine players.
The result leaves the group wide open with all four teams still in with a chance of reaching the last 16.
Italy brought back the fit-again Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back, with Fabio Grosso dropping out, and striker Francesco Totti has been passed fit to start after picking up a knock in the opening game victory over Ghana.
For the USA, Bruce Arena made two changes to the side that lost to the Czech Republic. Clinton Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra coming in for DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Lewis.
In the early stages the United States enjoyed plenty of possession and it was clear they were under instructions to deliver as many crosses as possible. However, with Nesta and Cannavaro they were up against two of the most experienced defenders in Europe and the Italian duo handled the initial threat with ease.
Convey had the best chance early on when the ball dropped to him 15 yards out but he snatched at his shot and fired over. Moments later Dempsey was found in space and his shot and turn flashed inches past the post as the US showed no signs of being daunted by their illustrious opponents.
However, despite being under sustained pressure in the opening twenty minutes, Italy went ahead from their first meaningful attack. Pirlo curled in a delightful free-kick and Gilardino crept ahead of his marker to steer a diving header past Keller.
Five minutes later the US were back on level terms when a dangerous free-kick was deflected into his own net by Zaccardo. It was a moment of good fortune for Arena’s team, but on the balance of play, one they probably felt they deserved.
A minute later Italy suffered a huge setback when De Rossi smashed an elbow into the face of Brian McBride and the referee instantly reached for the red card. Lippi responded to the dismissal by removing Francesco Totti and replacing him with Gennaro Gattuso.
Despite enjoying a man advantage the US were not finding it easy to break down the stubborn Italian defence. Their best effort came from who Mastroeni fired a long-range effort just over the bar.
The USA’s numerical advantage was short-lived because on the stroke of half-time both teams were reduced to ten men. Mastroeni slid into a reckless tackle on Andrea Pirlo and for the second time in the space of 15 minutes the referee reached to his pocket and produced a red card. Bruce Arena, who clearly thought the decision was harsh, could be seen throwing up his hands in frustration on the touchline.
The second half began the same way the first half had ended, with the referee sending another player off – this time the recipient was Eddie Pope who was dismissed for a second yellow card following a crude challenge on Gilardino. From being a man up, the USA now had to play the rest of the match with nine players.
Immediately after Pope’s departure, Italy almost took the lead when Bocanegra misdirected his defensive header and the ball cannoned off the bar – much to the relief of the stranded Keller.
On 63 minutes, Landon Donovan, who up until then had been relatively anonymous, managed to create a good opening for McBride, but the Fulham striker sliced his shot wide from 18 yards.
The substitute Beasley thought he had given the States the lead when he fired a low drive past Buffon but the goal was disallowed because McBride was standing in an offside position. The striker was undoubtedly offside but whether or not he was interfering with play was a moot point.
At the other end, Zambrotta, who had been Italy’s best player on the night, almost gave Italy the lead when he cut inside from the left and fired in a low shot that fizzed past the post. Del Piero, who had come off the bench when the US were reduced to nine men, brought a marvellous fingertip save from Keller as Italy sensed the depleted USA team were there for the taking.
Despite a flurry of half-chances for Italy, the United States defence held firm to earn what may turn out to be a valuable point.
Italy, will point to the loss of De Rossi in mitigation for their disappointing performance, but the reality is that for large parts of the game they were outplayed by a workmanlike USA side. The display does not bode well for their chances of mounting a serious challenge at this year’s finals.
For the USA, today’s display will go some way to erasing the painful memories of their opening match defeat to the Czech Republic. However, with a resurgent Ghana to play in their last game, they will have to raise their game if they are to have any hope of reaching the knockout stages.
Italy: Buffon, Zaccardo, Nesta, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Perrotta, Pirlo, De Rossi, Totti, Toni, Gilardino.
Subs used: Gattuso 35 (for Totti), Del Piero 55 (for Zaccardo), Iaquinta 62 |(for Toni).
Bookings: Totti 5, Zambrotta 70.
Sent-off: De Rossi 28.
USA: Keller, Cherundolo, Onyewu, Pope, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Mastroeni, Reyna, Convey, McBride, Donovan.
Subs used: Conrad 52 (for Convey), Beasley 62 (for Dempsey).
Bookings: Pope 21.
Sent-off: Mastroeni 45, Pope 47.
Referee: Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay).
Italy: Gilardino 22.
USA: Zaccardo og 27.