Hello and welcome to today's Confederations Cup match between the United States and Italy. Last time we saw these two, it was in the ugliest match of the 2006 World Cup. That match featured three red cards and was possibly the most poorly officiated contest in the history of sports.
That official, Jorge Larrionda, is present in this tournament but is thankfully not on hand to ruin this match as well.
The U.S. was the only team to get a result against Italy during the last World Cup, but Sam's Army claims they aren't looking back at that match at all. That seems like a pretty good policy. Since then, the U.S. has changed coaches and gotten a lot more dangerous in the midfield.
But then again, there's no Brian McBride either.
My prediction: 3-1 victory for the Italians
U.S.: Howard, Bornstein, Onyewu, Demerit, Spector, Dempsey, Feilhaber, Clark, Bradley, Donovan, Altidore
Italy: Buffon, Grosso, Chiellini, Zambrotta, Legrottaglie, Gattuso, De Rossi, Pirlo, Gilardino, Camoranesi, Iaquinta
1 min: US in white, Italy in blue. Italy takes the kick and we start playing some pinball.
2 min: The US faithful were hopeful that the Americans might pick up a win over Egypt and somehow sneak into the semifinals. After watching Egypt nearly pick up a win against Brazil this morning, that seems like a highly unlikely scenario. Brazil only won after an obvious handball in the 90th minute led to a red card and a penalty kick for the Selecao.
5 min: We've got a whole lot of nothing happening right now. Italy are doing a nice job keeping possession, but they haven't been too adventurous yet. They're trying to feel out the US defense, much like the first 10 minutes of a blind date.
8 min: Mauro Camoranesi fouls Michael Bradley on a hip check that would make Darren McCarty proud. Altidore draws a free kick about 30 yards from goal shortly after that foul. How will the U.S. squander this chance?
9 min: Landon Donovan steps up to take this, and taps it to Clint Dempsey. Dempsey blasts it high, wide and not at all handsome. Decent idea, though.
10 min: Michael Bradley nearly puts Altidore through on goal as the U.S. shows a little bit of aggression in the early going. Unfortunately, the U.S. was playing two on six there. No chance.
11 min: Jonathan Bornstein badly misjudges a header and the ball falls to Camoranesi in the box. He shoots from a tight angle but blasts it out for a goal kick. Apparently both teams have just woken up.
13 min: Gilardino gets the first shot on target of the match, but it's right at Tim Howard. The U.S. goal was never in any real danger there.
15 min: I suspect that Altidore could be dangerous if he weren't by himself up front. Just as I finish typing that sentence, he gets caught offside. By a wide margin.
16 min: Camoranesi lobs a dangerous cross towards Gilardino, but the towering frame of Oguchi Onyewu rises to clear the ball.
17 min: Altidore feeds Spector in the box, but Spector's first touch lets him down and he has to sprint back into defense. I like the aggression from the US though, this is a huge change from what we've seen in recent matches.
20 min: Jonathan Bornstein draws a yellow card for a nothing foul on a diving Mauro Camoranesi. Seems like a good time to note that Camoranesi would make a very ugly woman.
21 min: Pirlo whips in a cross on the free kick to a diving Legrottaglie, who puts his header wide of the near post. That's dangerous stuff from Greg Louganis and co.
22 min: That was a diving joke, in case you missed it.
24 min: Altidore is getting a lot of touches near the Italian goal. That's a great sign for the U.S. He can draw fouls and give Dempsey more opportunities to whip shots over the crossbar.
26 min: Michael Bradley gets into the box and tries to cut a pass back into the middle. Sooooo close. Buffon actually bobbles the pass, but controls it in the end.
27 min: Trivia time! The U.S. has never beaten Italy, but the last five matches have been decided by one goal or less.
29 min: Ricardo Clark surrenders a corner, and Italy gets a shot on net. Howard is there once again to clean up the mess. This game is really starting to pick up.
30 min: ALTIDORE! He was one-on-one with Buffon ten yards from net, and rather than shoot, scuffs a weak left-footed pass towards Landon Donovan. That was the best opportunity of the whole match so far.
31 min: Only Oguchi Onyewu's tenacious work saves Howard from a difficult situation. Meanwhile, Italy earns a free kick 35 yards out, and Pirlo gives Howard a difficult ball to deal with. It dips and swerves, and all Howard can do is chest it away.
33 min: Ricardo Clark with a late challenge, and they're still trying to sort this one out. Red card! That's a poor, poor call. It wasn't a particularly hard challenge even if it was late. That's got to be a yellow card at most, and now we've got another U.S.-Italy match marred by an overzealous official.
35 min: Landon Donovan is upset after being elbowed in the head by Fabio Grosso. Grosso only gets a yellow, but based on the precedent set just two minutes ago, that should have been a red card and a lifetime ban.
38 min: Italy is making the most of their undeserved man advantage and possessing quite a bit near the U.S. box. Bornstein puts the ball into his own net, but it's waved off for offsides. The crowd is unhappy with that one, but it was a good call.
40 min: We've got a makeup call! Jozy Altidore gets into the box and tries to cut back on Chiellini! Chiellini drags him down and draws a penalty. Donovan to take it...
41 min: GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!! Landon Donovan makes it 1-0 to the United States after converting his third penalty kick in as many matches. Buffon guessed the wrong way and Donovan calmly slotted it past.
43 min: Michael Bradley launches a long shot at Buffon, which gives the keeper some trouble. The ball is knuckling towards the net and all Buffon can do is awkwardly slap it to the ground. The US smells blood, but you've got to wonder if they can hold off the Italians for the rest of the game down a man.
45 min: Altidore plays Dempsey through, earning a deep throw for the US. They've actually been more threatening since Clark was sent off. Marcelo Lippi looks like he's going to murder somebody in the dressing room.
45 min + 1: Thanks to the magic of ESPN, we don't know how much stoppage time was added, nor do we have any idea how much stoppage time has elapsed, as their clock has just stopped at 45.
I'm quite obviously frustrated by that red card. It was Clark's first foul of the day and wasn't a particularly hard challenge. It definitely merited a yellow card, but a straight red? It's like we've got Graham Poll out there.
Needless to say, the U.S. will be quite thrilled at taking a lead into the dressing room at the half. Both teams have had some decent opportunities, but Italy does have the man advantage and is a superior side on paper.
Landon Donovan tells us in a droll monotone, "Playing for my country...is everything to me." Feel the passion!
In the ESPN studio, Alexi Lalas and Rece Davis are discussing the red card. Lalas calls it "a disgrace," and as the former GM of the L.A. Galaxy, he's definitely qualified to identify disgraces. He signed several of them.
We've seen the same Leo Messi/Adidas commercial five times during halftime now. We get it. He's a great player who wears really expensive and colorful boots. I've got a pair of F50's myself, where's my international call-up?
Back to the match, if the US wants to maintain this lead and pull off the upset of the tournament (because, let's face it, South Africa and Iraq have no chance against Spain), they can't afford to pull back and put up a defensive shell.
The Italians will crack it eventually because the US defense isn't good enough to absorb pressure from a world class side for 45 minutes.
They should just stay the course and keep trying to hit the Italians on the counter. It's been effective so far.
46 min: And the second half is underway! John Harkes tells us that the U.S. halftime talk covered keeping calm and maintaining possession.
48 min: Iaquinta tries to waltz through the U.S. back line, but Jay DeMerit steps up and relieves him of possession.
50 min: Altidore is fed along the sideline by Landon Donovan, but he is quickly double-teamed. This is still a good strategy, it's keeping the Italian defense on their heels. Another counter through Michael Bradley fizzles out.
52 min: Benny Feilhaber feeds a great pass into Clint Dempsey, who, instead of passing it wide to the wings, elects to take on the entire nation of Italy by himself. He almost draws the foul, but loses possession instead.
53 min: Zambrotta attempts to put a wrestling move on Altidore. Free kick to the U.S. from 35 yards, as the commentators remind us that Zambrotta was involved with Zidane during the last World Cup. Except he wasn't, that was Materazzi.
56 min: Italy has been trying to get a cross into the box, and Jonathan Spector won't let them. He's surrendered a corner, but the U.S. will gladly take that alternative.
57 min: Italy sub: Camoranesi off, Montolivo on. Gattuso off, the American-born Giusseppe Rossi on. Will the US make him regret his decision?
59 min: GOOOOOAAALLLLL!!! Giusseppe Rossi makes it 1-1 with a phenomenal strike from 25 yards out. Feilhaber lost possession in midfield, and Rossi immediately made them pay. What a great shot though.
62 min: Onyewu gets quite a scolding from Tim Howard after scuffing a clearance out for a corner. Howard would have scooped that ball up, and instead the U.S. is forced into defending another set piece. Bornstein clears the danger momentarily.
65 min: There has been a noticeable momentum shift in the last 10 minutes or so. Italy is finally getting consistent pressure on the US backline, but the defense, Onyewu and Spector in particular, are doing their jobs admirably.
66 min: U.S. sub: Altidore off, Charlie Davies on. Jozy played well today, and will make way for the pacy, energetic Davies. Davies looked great against Costa Rica in limited action, so let's see if he can make something happen in the last 25 minutes here.
68 min: Italy gets off two shots in quick succession. One is deflected by Howard, the other ends up somewhere in Cape Town. No, I didn't look up the names of South African cities on Wikipedia.
69 min: Feilhaber clobbers Pirlo, hits him much harder than Clark's foul. No card though. This ref is a real wanker.
70 min: Italy sub: The Italians make their final change, bringing on Luca Toni in favor of Gilardino, I believe.
72 min: GOOOAAALLLL! Daniele De Rossi, he who elbowed Brian McBride in the face, has just made it a 2-1 match, and that should do it. He was given acres of space by Donovan and the U.S. defense, and he slotted it past a screened Tim Howard. In the celebrations that follow, Beasley comes on for Feilhaber.
75 min: Italy almost makes it a 3-1 game off a corner as the ball is headed down and skips right across the face of goal. The defense seems to have lost a lot of confidence, which is a bad sign with Brazil looming on the horizon. That match happens Thursday.
78 min: It's not as if the US has played poorly today. They created some nice opportunities and were just unfortunately victimized by an incredibly poor officiating decision. It's a tall task to hang on for 60 minutes against Italy with only 10 men, but they've given it an admirable effort.
80 min: Dempsey tests Buffon from about 40 yards, and Buffon looks awkward yet again. He hasn't looked like the world's best keeper when he's been tested today. He's only conceded one, but has looked shaky on a few other chances.
81 min: Donovan takes a knee to the spine as he is climbed over in the box. No penalty, strangely. This is pretty poor officiating. That was definitely a foul anywhere on the pitch.
84 min: Chiellini gets his head to a Pirlo corner, but puts it well over the bar. The U.S. is hanging close as Sacha Kljestan prepares to enter the match.
85 min: U.S. sub: Bornstein makes way for Kljestan as the US hopes to get a final push for offense.
88 min: The US is pouring on the pressure. Kljestan narrowly misses the target with a shot from distance. It was swerving with menace, but just too high.
90 min: Beasley wins a corner for the US as he rampages down the left wing. Donovan takes it, and Onyewu moves into the box. Charlie Davies gets his head to the corner, but can't get it down. He missed a sure goal right there.
90 min + 1: Rossi forces Howard into action, and Howard obliges, making a fantastic save as the U.S. looks to counter. We've got four minutes of stoppage time to enjoy.
90 min + 2: Howard is again called upon, this time denying a wide open Luca Toni. Howard has really been great today. He's helped keep the U.S. in this match.
90 min +4: And Giusseppe Rossi makes it 3-1 as Howard's defense left him hung out to dry. Pirlo found Rossi making a late run into the box behind the defense and Rossi hits the volley into the back of the net.
Full time: It was a valiant effort for the underdog American squad, but they came up empty handed in the end. You've got to wonder if the result would have been different with a more competent official, but the Italians still got themselves three fantastic goals.
Be sure to tune in Thursday when the US takes on Brazil.