| An Australian fan after the team’s defeat. (Reuters) Results: Italy 1 Australia 0
Kaiserslautern, June 26: One more second and Francesco Totti would have been left sucking his thumb for the rest of this World Cup.
Instead, he broke into a run, as if freshly unshackled, still sucking his thumb ' because it’s become fashionable to celebrate a goal and the birth of a child thus.
For Italy, it was like childbirth ' the relief, that is. Or like newly won freedom from the fate of being cast into the dustbin of World Cup 2006.
It’s not every day that the whistle is blown to pull the curtain down on a soccer match the second the ball lodges into the net from a penalty. That’s what happened to Australia as Totti coolly drilled home a penalty with the last kick of the match.
“We are very disappointed because we were so close but I can be very proud of the team. I think the only thing we can blame ourselves for is that we did not get a goal,” said Australia’s coach Guus Hiddink.
Italy limped into the quarter-finals, breaking the Hiddink jinx. In the last World Cup, South Korea, under Hiddink, had eliminated it in the last 16.
Totti blasted home the penalty after defender Fabio Grosso had tumbled over Lucas Neill’s challenge.
“Overall you can have doubts about the penalty,” Hiddink said.
His opposite number, Marcello Lippi, had nothing but praise for his team, which fended off some determined Australian raids for over 40 minutes with 10 men. Defender Marco Materazzi was sent off on 50 minutes.
“It’s an indescribable joy. I’m really delighted,” Lippi said. “These lads showed great heart, great character and also great quality.”
Totti said he had proved himself. “So far the critics have really laid into me, but I’ve always said I’d prove myself on the pitch.
“We suffered for long periods of the match, but in the end it was the whole team that won this match. Now I think we can go a long way in this tournament.”
Few neutral observers, however, considered the result to be a fair outcome of a disappointing contest.
Elimination in such a manner is always cruel but it was particularly rough justice on Australia and not only because it had been the better side for large parts of the game.
Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo’s decision to award a penalty when Grosso fell over the prone body of Neill was more likely than not the wrong call.
The crowd, with a large number of neutrals, jeered the Azzurri off the field and applauded the Australians.
Until the penalty, the game was heading into extra-time and the physically fitter Australians would have fancied their chances in the additional 30 minutes of play.
They are unlikely to talk of a conspiracy but they could certainly have cause for complaint.