Matteo Politano's Late Goal Pushes Italy Past Christian Pulisic, USMNT

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist INovember 20, 2018

Italy's defender Francesco Acerbi (L) and Unites States' midfielder Christian Pulisic (R) vie for the ball during the friendly football match between Italy and the USA at the Luminus Arena Stadium in Genk on November 20, 2018. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHN THYS/Getty Images

Italy secured a 1-0 friendly win over the United States on Tuesday at the Luminus Arena in Genk, Belgium, thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Matteo Politano. 

Roberto Mancini's side dominated the first half but created few clear-cut chances. USA goalkeeper Ethan Horvath was called into action on occasion, saving well from Marco Verratti, Domenico Berardi and Leonardo Bonucci.

The second half was a similar story as Italy continued to press. Horvath saved twice from Kevin Lasagna, while Mattia De Sciglio blazed a shot over the bar as the game looked set to end goalless.

However, Politano secured victory deep into four minutes of stoppage time. The substitute was played in by Roberto Gagliardini and tucked a low shot past Horvath.


Horvath Deserves to be US No. 1

Unites States' goalkeeper Ethan Horvath (L) saves the ball in front of Italy's forward Moise Kean (R) during the friendly football match between Italy and the USA at the Luminus Arena Stadium in Genk on November 20, 2018. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)
JOHN THYS/Getty Images

The U.S. were forced to defend for long periods of Tuesday's match as Italy bossed possession, but the Azzurri really struggled to find a way past goalkeeper Horvath.

The 23-year-old put in a superb performance and looked set to keep a clean sheet, until Politano's dramatic late goal.

Hovarth showed plenty of composure despite appearing for the national team for the first time in over a year. He was quick to deny Bonucci after he got on the end of a free-kick from Stefano Sensi in the first half.

He also showed his agility by tipping over Berardi's effort just before half-time. Goal's Ives Galarcep offered his view at the break:

Ives Galarcep @SoccerByIves

HALFTIME - Italy 0, #USMNT 0. It's been the Ethan Horvath show. Italy with a 99-1 possession advantage in the first half. Okay, it was actually 74-26, but admit it, for a second you believed that it was 99-1. A forgettable 45 minutes for the USA

Hovarth continued to be the standout performer for the U.S. after the break. He denied Vincenzo Grifo with a diving save and made sure it was a tough night for Lasagna:

U.S. Soccer MNT @ussoccer_mnt

Ethan Horvath says NOT TODAY. For the 6th time. 😤🚫 https://t.co/nRmjlde0XG

The U.S.'s defensive resolve was finally broken just seconds before the final whistle. However, Horvath could do little about Politano's goal, with the winger putting the ball out of his reach with a clinical finish.

It was a tough end to the game for Horvath, whose efforts certainly had not gone unnoticed by supporters:

Joe Prince-Wright @JPW_NBCSports

#USMNT fans chanting Ethan Horvath's name in the away end here in Genk. Deserved.

His performance showed he deserves to be the No.1 for the national team, ahead of the ageing Brad Guzan who will turn 35 in 2019. 

Zack Steffen is another option between the sticks. However, the 23-year-old withdrew from the squad with a hamstring injury, and Hovarth took full advantage with a performance which demonstrates why he should be first choice.


Lasagna Is Not the Answer to Italy's Attacking Problems

Italy's late strike does not hide the fact that Mancini's men continue to struggle for goals and once again found it tough going despite dominating the possession against the U.S.

Mancini opted to hand Lasagna a start alongside Chiesa and Berardi, but the Udinese striker failed to take the opportunity.

Chiesa was Italy's brightest attacker with his pace causing Italy problems, while Lasagna never really looked like scoring.

He had few sights of goal in a quiet first half but did have opportunities to break the deadlock after half-time. 

Twice he was sent racing through on goal, but both times he was denied by Horvath. He had another decent chance late on but rushed his shot and blazed it over the bar.

Joe Prince-Wright was not impressed:

Joe Prince-Wright @JPW_NBCSports

Lasagna makes a mess of that finish. Sorry, Kevin. Had to say it. The Italy striker smashes over the bar from close range. Another close call for #USMNT

It was to be his last meaningful involvement, as he was replaced by Politano with three minutes of normal time remaining. To make matters worse for Lasagna, the substitute went on to score the winner.

Although Italy sign off 2018 with a win, the performance will give Mancini plenty to think about with regard to his attack going forwards.

Vince Van Genechten offered his view:

Vince Van Genechten 🇮🇹 @VVGenechten

Lasagna has missed two huge chances. Italy needs a great striker, right Moise Kean? #ItaliaUSA

Moise Kean played the last half an hour and may be given more game time going forward. However, Lasagna's performance will have done little to convince Mancini he deserves to keep his place.


What's Next?

Tuesday's match was the final fixture of 2018 for both teams. The United States' next scheduled friendly is in February against Costa Rica at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California. Italy do not have any fixtures scheduled yet. The next European international break is set to fall between March 18 and 26.