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U.S. generated no real attack in setback to Italy, but scrappy defense was impressive.

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Italians are fortunate to come away with 1-0 victory on Del Piero goal.

CATANIA, Italy (Wednesday, February 13, 2002) -- The United States men battled valiantly, but Alessandro Del Piero’s goal in the 62nd minute gave Italy a 1-0 victory in an internationally friendly before 25,000 Stadio Cibali tonight.

A fair result would have been a scoreless draw since Italy’s one goal was the product of a sequence that began with an obvious foul that was not called. Gianluca Zambrotta, who came on after intermission, as did Del Piero, used both hands to push American defender David Regis off the ball and to the ground and start a quick counter on the right flank. With the U.S. in the process of moving forward, the quick transition left the defense completely out of position. Zambrotta found an open Massimo Marazzina, in stride as he approached the top right of the penalty area.

Marazzina carried into the top of the box and then, with goalkeeper Brad Friedel protecting the near post, crossed to an unmarked Del Piero for a simple six-yard right-footed volley into the far side as three Americans helplessly pursued from behind.

Twelve minutes earlier, Del Piero gained a turnover from U.S. right back Tony Sanneh, took a couple quick steps to his right and triggered a 14-yard blast that Friedel turned aside with a stiff right arm.

In the 56th minute, Del Piero caused trouble in the American penalty area again. Francesco Coco broke free into the left side of box and crossed to Del Piero, but Regis was able to make a sliding tackle to knock the ball away five yards from goal.

Italy played an ultra conservative first half that led to increasing derision from the crowd. Though the Americans held a large edge in possession and had a 9-3 advantage in shots, it was a grievous Italian defensive error that led to the one great American scoring opportunity for the evening.

Defender Marco Materazzi slipped trying to play midfielder Cristiano Zanetti’s back pass leaving U.S. striker Landon Donovan with a free run from the top right of the penalty arc in the seventh minute. A step inside the box, Donovan had keeper Francesco Toldo easily beaten but hit the left post with his shot.

"I didn't think I was going to be in that position," Donovan said. "I know if I knew I was going to be alone like that I would have (shot) better."

Donovan had another good chance in the 36th minute, taking a ball from midfielder Earnie Stewart down the left wing and dribbling around defender Fabio Cannavaro in the box before bending right-footed shot that sailed over the top right corner of the goal.

"We missed opportunities in the first half," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "With Italy making four changes at halftime, it made a big difference for them. There were many positive things for us in the game today, but it would be foolish to look at this game as a moral victory. We are pleased with the effort as we continue to move forward in our preparations."

Otherwise, neither side created much danger. The Americans put four shots on goal, but all were easily handled by Toldo. Friedel's great save was his only, though he hustled on a couple of occasions to gather high Italian entry passes into the box.

"I think we caught them a little by surprise, so we can feel good about that," U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna said. "The plan was to come out and attack them and keep the high tempo. You don't come to Italy and control the first half like the way we did without something happening. I bet Trapattoni had some strong words for them at half time. They made four substitutions at the start of the second half and became fresher. We just didn't have any solutions left.''

After the first meeting with the Azzurri in nearly 12 years, the U.S. is now winless in five full internationals against the Italians, losing three times in Italy, and earning two draws on U.S. soil. The U.S. lost 1-0 in the last meeting in the 1990 World Cup with the Americans nearly shocking the world when late misses from Bruce Murray and Peter Vermes would have produced a draw. It was the first U.S. appearance in the World Cup in 40 years.

Italy 1, United States 0

Lineups: Italy - Francesco Toldo, Francesco Coco, Mark Iuliano, Fabio Cannavaro - captain (Luigi Sartor 82), Marco Materazzi, Damiano Tomassi (Gennarro Gattuso 75), Antonio Asta (Gianluca Zambrotta 46), Cristiano Zanetti, Francesco Totti (Alessandro Del Piero 46), Christian Vieri (Massimo Marazzina 46), Marco Di Vaio (Cristiano Doni, 46). United States - Brad Friedel, Tony Sanneh (Frankie Hejduk 59), Gregg Berhalter, Jeff Agoos, David Regis, John O’Brien, Chris Armas, Claudio Reyna - captain (Eddie Lewis 80), Earnie Stewart, Landon Donovan (Josh Wolff 65), Joe-Max Moore (Jovan Kirovski 79).

Italy - Del Piero (Marazzina) 62.

Shots: Italy 8, United States 15. Saves: Italy 4, United States 1 Corner kicks: Italy 4, United States 1 Fouls: Italy 18, United States 17. Offside: Italy 3, United States 6. Yellow card cautions: Italy - Materazzi 58, Gattuso 90.

Referee: Joseph Attard (Malta). Assistant referees: Philip Agius (Malta), Ronals Fariguas (Malta). Attendance: 25,000 at Stadio Cibali in Catania, Italy. Weather: 54 degrees, clear.

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