| Francesco Totti after converting the penalty kick in Kaiserslautern on Monday. (AFP)
Ten men triumphed over 11, a traditional power ousted a modern challenger. In the end, the Italians were a tad lucky to progress to the quarter finals, winning a 50-50 penalty decision five seconds before the end of stoppage time. And Totti was not one to waste this chance of resurrecting his fading fortunes.
If any team deserved some luck in this second-round game, it had to be Italy and not Australia. They lost Materazzi six minutes after half-time and had to play with 10 men for a very long time. And it was a harsh call, in keeping with the standard of refereeing in Germany over the past fortnight.
The central defender, who was filling in for the injured Nesta, challenged Bresciano inside the box. But it didn’t look deliberate and Materazzi’s outstretched leg hit a fellow-Italian more than the Aussie. As we have seen so many times, the reaction of the ‘victim’ had influenced the decision.
The Aussies enjoyed more of the possession but the way the Italians mobilised their defence, Viduka and his mates just couldn’t get the ball into the net. On the three or four occasions Hiddink’s team did manage to push the Italian defence, Buffon stood tall under the bar. He showed why he is the world’s highest paid goalkeeper.
The Italians, who had been outwitted by the Hiddink-powered Koreans four years ago, were determined not to bow to another low-ranked rival coached by the Dutchman. It showed in their approach. After missing a slew of opportunities in the first session, the Azzurris changed their game plan quickly after being reduced to 10.
The first priority was then to deny the aggressive Aussies a goal and then go for broke in the final moments to avoid pushing the match to extra-time. They succeeded, with a bit of luck.
Left-back Grosso burst into the penalty box, fooled the first defender and tried another inside dodge to open up the goal. As Lucas Neill came in the way, Grosso fell down. It wasn’t a deliberate obstruction, but in such a position, the referee often pulls up the defender.
The Italians should have scored at least twice in the opening 45 minutes. Toni, preferred to Totti in the starting line-up, headed wide after taking up a very good position to meet a Del Piero cross. Minutes later, Toni turned skilfully outside the top box and let go a left-footer which was smartly pushed away by Schwarzer.
Gilardino came close to scoring twice as well, once he delayed in aiming at goal and then shot wide from very close. Maybe had Totti been there from the start, he would have converted one of those chances.
Italy are still not looking like potential champions, but they are in a good section of the draw and have a good chance of going through to the last four.
Lippi, however, has to address the scoring problem. At this stage of a competition like this, a team can ill-afford to squander so many scoring chances.