Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Italian Job

I hardly believe if there are any Australians out there who feels Italy got what they deserve. After literally committing a daylight robbery in the heat of German summer, the Italians must have felt that Lady Luck was finally on their side. The painful memory of the Euro 2000 defeat to France, due to bad luck, might have been erased permanently as they snatched the winner in a match they hardly deserved to win.

Italy, on all counts, were favourites to win this clash against Australia right from the start. Never mind master tactician Guus Hiddink, who only four years ago orchestrated a superb 1-0 victory over them with the Koreans. Australia was a different breed and the Italians were determined to set things right.

Yet, the Italians started the game totally in contrast to their initial aim. Choosing to seat back and allow the Australians control of the football, the percentage of possession read Australia 73%, Italy 27% in the premature stages of the game. Instead, the Italians preferred hitting the Aussies on the break. With the skill of Gillardino and the proficency of Luca Toni, the Italians believed that they could actually score just by depending on the two of them.

Cannavaro and Materazzi, classy defenders by all means, were utilized to shut out the constant wave of Australian attack. The Italians knew that Australia were no Brazil or Argentina, who given control of the ball would have said thank you and plummeted them with an avalanche of goals. And how right they were as Australia failed to capitalize on their possession of the football. The lack of penetration in the final third was glaring.

The inventive running of Harry Kewell was missing as the attacking midfielder sat on the sidelines nursing a groin injury. Without his contribution, Australia decided to whack the ball into the penalty area hoping that the likes of Viduka or Cahill will be at the end of it.

From out wide, Scott Chipperfield, the left winger for Australia tried his darnest best with a stinging drive from close range in the 29th minute. Alas, the shot only served to warm the hands of Italian goalkeeper, Buffon who grabbed it with ease.

On the other side, Italy's counter attacking policy reaped precious benefits as Luca Toni and Gillardino tested Mark Schwarzer briefly with two headers and a tame shot. Del Piero, who successfully replaced golden boy Totti, showed little spark as he looked highly anonymous througout the game. He was eventually substituted by Francesco Totti.

The game looked like it would have tipped to the side of the hardworking Australians as Materazzi saw a straight red from a challenge on Marco Bresciano. With 40 minutes of the game left, it looked like game on for the Aussies. However, they continued to make unsuccessful inroads into the tight Italian defence, marshalled by Fabio Cannavaro.

With ten minutes left, Cahill headed a corner over when it looked more likely that he would have converted it. And Australia was left cursing their luck again as they failed for the umpteen time to exploit their one man advantage.

Luck will continue to elude the plucky Australians as the clock ticked down to full time. In the third minute of injury time, the match seem certain to be heading for extra time. But Fabio Grosso had other ideas. He marauded into the box evading the first challenge before deftly trying to avoid the second. Unfortunately, Lucas Neill, who was the perpetrator of the second tackle was deemed to have committed a crime. Hence, a dubious penalty was awarded as Grosso fell under the faintest of touchest. Television replays showed that the referee got it all wrong but the referee had no doubt in his mind that Grosso was illegally brought down.

So up stepped Totti. With the Australians protesting vehemently over the penalty decision and the fans crying foul, Totti managed to shut out all distractions as he placed an unstoppable kick beyond the the despairing reach of Mark Schwarzer. It was the final kick of the game as the Italian fans went wild with celebration.

The winner was God-given. Pure luck. As Totti wheeled away in celebration, he stuck his thumb into his mouth implying that too bad Australia. This is Football. You need luck and we had all of it today.

How true. And with that the Italian Job was complete. Controversial as it sounds, luck is the key factor. And luck is you need if you want to commit daylight robbery.

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