(Monday, June 15, 2009) -- Playing a man down for more than a half was asking too much of the United States men, who fell 3-1 to defending world champion Italy in the opening Group B match of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa today.
The U.S. can not be faulted for its effort as it pushed the forward from the opening. Even after midfielder Ricardo Clark was sent off with a red card in the 34th minute, the Americans refused to go into a defensive shell and attacked, even forcing a penalty kick that gave them a 1-0 lead to take into halftime.
Italy's first two goals were very similar. First, New Jersey-born reserve striker Giuseppe Rossi in the 59th minute and then midfielder Daniele De Rossi 13 minutes later picked up balls well away from goal. When the over-taxed American did not try to shut the Italians down, their long, hard shots found the net for a 2-1 advantage.
The final tally by Rossi came deep into stoppage time when the U.S. was pushing for an equalizer and became stretched out. Star midfielder Andrea Pirlo carried to the left end-line and cut a perfect pass back to an open Rossi running down the middle for an easy finish..
The U.S. could not have played much better in the first half. The team as a whole, and various players individually, were obviously nervous at the start and a few errors were made; but, overall, they settled in well. The Americans began to attack and create chances, but two golden chances, one to midfielder Michael Bradley and another to forward Jozy Altidore were squandered, foiled by what looked like nerves.
The defense generally kept its shape with the only major breakdown a back-pass into his own net by defender Jonathan Bornstein, an own goal that was negated by an offside call.
Then came the expulsion of Clark on a challenge that was both late and clumsy. He might have gotten away with a yellow card, but Chilean referee Pablo Pozo did not hesitate and harshly showed red.
The Americans did not fold, however. Midfielder Benny Feilhaber moved into the middle from the flank and the U.S. continued to press. When Altidore was pulled down in the penalty area, Donovan converted his PK for a 1-0 lead in the 41st minute.
Italy came out playing much more aggressively in the second half, running at the U.S. and trying to push passes through the midfield. Shortly after coming on, Rossi stripped the ball from Feilhaber in the midfield and, as he advanced, Bradley gave ground and Rossi nailed a laser 35 yards, cleanly beating goalkeeper Howard into the top left corner to level the match at 1-1.
In the 72nd minute, De Rossi picked up the ball deep in the midfield and, when no one closed him down, he hit a hard low shot that hamstrung U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu could not stop the shot, but screened Howard who watched the ball find the corner to his left.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley had to make a change in the starting lineup when defender Carlos Bocanegra could not go because of a minor hamstring injury suffered last week in a World Cup qualifier in Chicago. Jay DeMerit got the start as Bradley continues to patch together a defense in the face of injuries.
Italian manager Marcello Lippi had his share of injury problems also and ended up with a starting side that did have a number of his stars, but also several injury fill-ins and a couple of unfamiliar faces looking to make an impression.
Early in the second half, Lippi took off veteran midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi and inserted a pair of youngsters in Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo. Later, he brought on star forward Luca Toni in the 70th minute in an attempt to put away the match.
The U.S. played hard and managed to create a number of good chances. The patched-together American defense was constantly under pressure, but generally held up well. In the end, Italy's obvious talent gap showed through, as well as the U.S. having to play shorthanded for so long.