World Cup Day 13: Italy-Uruguay Game Log

Pre-game thoughts: Costa Rica’s match with England in Belo Horizonte will not be of utmost importance, but for an unlikely scenario: Los Ticos have shockingly already clinched the group–without having faced what has now become the group’s weak link in England–and will likely win it outright with a +3 goal differential and four goals scored in only two games. That leaves the Italians and Uruguayans to duel it out for a second-place finish and knockout stage berth (teams which have +0 GD/2 GS and -1 GD/3 GS, respectively, making it highly improbable that their victory even compounded with a Costa Rica loss would result in winning the group). The Azzurri enter the crucial game in Natal with an upper hand, as a draw would allow them passage into the round of 16 as well. But after a stellar first outing against England, the Italians were surprisingly trounced by upstart tournament darlings Costa Rica, a game in which several questions concerning Italy’s defense arose. With a truly powerful attack, one reinvigorated upon Luis Suarez’s return, Uruguay will prove a formidable opponent that has gained key momentum as of late. While the Uruguayans will seek to replicate their WC success–a process that extends with a victory against Italy–the Italians will want the same result (or a tie) to reclaim their sense of European soccer authority, and progress out of the group stages for the first time in eight years. With all the international talent from both sides involved, and the stakes being as high as ever for each country, Tuesday’s clash will surely be entertaining as it is competitive.

First half:

-Mario Balotelli has struggled to settle into his role in Italy’s altered offensive formation that has placed him up top with Ciro Immobile; frustration might have now sunk in for the mercurial striker, as Balotelli commits two dumb fouls within a minute that earn him a yellow card (his second in the tournament, meaning he misses the team’s second round game if they advance today)

-in the first 25 minutes of the contest, while the Azzurri controlled possession and mostly dictated the pace of the game, Uruguay developed more dangerous attacks composed of better runs and spacing in the offensive third of the pitch than their opponents; yet after this mark in the game time, the Italians have gradually begun to translate their ball control into more concerted and fluid offensive pushes

-a couple of quick and effective pass combinations lead to La Celeste penetrating the left-side goalmouth (from the perspective of the attakcers), signifying the best offensive chance for either side in this game–legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon works his magic again though, getting a hand on two Uruguayan shots while situating himself well outside the goal line

-for a Uruguayan side that cannot settle for anything less than a win to advance, it’s a worrying sign that Italy has so heavily and overbearingly dominated the ball in this opening half, leaving with Uruguay with an inadequate amount of chances on goal

-the play of midfield talisman Andrea Pirlo often determines his team’s fate: through 45 minutes of action, he has had 46 touches on the ball, compared to 72 in his first game (a win) and 36 in his second (a loss) at the same halfway point in the game

Second half:

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

-Italian manager Cesare Prandelli abandons his Balotelli-Immobile combo experiment, subbing out Super Mario–who will see his next WC action only if Italy advances to the quarterfinals now–for 29-year old Marco Parolo, also electing to not take the risk of allowing a carded player to remain in the match

-as Uruguay begins to pressure the opposing goal more and more to begin the final half, it receives a massive help: the referee hands Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio a red card for a dangerous tackle with his cleats up–though it doesn’t seem too egregious (perhaps meriting only a yellow), adding a controversial nature to such a significant, game-changing decision

-GK Buffon, who energetically and furiously sprinted to the other side of the pitch to contest his teammate’s expulsion, will factor in hugely in the remaining time of this game, spearheading his team’s primarly defensive effort playing with 10 men–so far, in the minutes following the red card, Buffon has risen to occasion and already saved a few Uruguayan shots

-despite Italy producing some attacking pushes, it’s feeling more and more like a hockey game in which one team has a power play (a 31-minute one for Uruguay) and the other must settle for clearances downfield (Italy); such a strategy will be effective–notably returning to the team’s traditional, defensive-first mindset–but if the Italians are to close out this game with a tie, they must attain control of the ball in the opposite half of the pitch in order to shave off at least some time

-it’s as if Luis Suarez needed to fulfill his notorious, questionable on-field character in order to truly jumpstart his team and propel it to victory: on the 79th minute, a tussle between Suarez and Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in front of the goal ends with Suarez moving his head into Chiellini’s left shoulder and apparently biting down, as he’s done in two other infamous incidents in the past; interestingly, Suarez also goes down after the clash (a result of taking a hit to the face that doesn’t seem too harmful), perhaps learning from his past biting episodes that if the bitten player falls, he should do the same in order to hide and offset the infraction–then, just within a few minutes of this moment and subsequent dispute, Uruguay earns a corner kick, on which centerback Diego Godin capitalizes with a header (that in fact bounces off his upper left back) to give his team a 1-0 lead (81′)

-a chaotic flow to the game ensues, as while Italy must press forward to look for an equalizer, the team also sustains a few dangerous counterattacks, that fortunately amount to nothing; until the game’s end five minutes into stoppage time, the Italian bench bickers and clamors vehemently–likely stemming from the red card shown to Marchisio and lack of one to Suarez by the referee–with one of the team’s trainers getting sent off, and other bench players and coaches helping to collect and pass balls to on-field Italians to speed up play; finally, about half a minute past the allotted five for injury, as every member of the Uruguayan coaching staff surrounds the line judge and frenziedly motion to their wrists to signal that the final whistle is overdue, the tense and frantic match concludes, as Uruguay advances to the knockout stages, and Italy fails to do so for the second consecutive time in the World Cup

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)


Balotelli Header Lifts Italy Over England In Group D Opener

Balotelli headed in the game-clinching goal in a battle of European powers. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Balotelli headed in the game-clinching goal in a battle against a fellow continental power. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Out to recapture its country’s faith after a disgraceful 2010 World Cup, the Italian national team took a bold first step in the process, notching a 2-1 victory over fellow European heavyweight England to commence its tournament schedule.

As for the Englishmen, they had plenty of their own concerns as well–living up to their usual unrealistic expectations. Often times playing apprehensively on the international stage, the Three Lions have in fact shed this image through one match, taking an aggressive approach early with shots that tested fill-in goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu (Gianluigi Buffon out with an ankle injury). Finding openings in the Azzurri defense with deliberate and upfield ball movement, the English demonstrated much more opportunistic playmaking and forcefulness in their actions–and not exuding an attitude of hesitation, trepidation, or over-cautiousness. In addition to constructive activity both on and off the ball and a much more fast-paced flow to their offensive attacks than Italy’s, English players exhibited nice chemistry–in terms of passing and creation of chances–between each other; perhaps this shows early signs that coach Roy Hodgson selected the most compatible combination of his players.

Yet Italy quickly attained a stranglehold on possession to commence the game, its defenders comfortably exchanging the ball among each other, before attempting long-pass connections to Mario Balotelli and other players up top. Bolstering the growth of an attack, the Italian midfield deliberately pushed the ball forward throughout the first half, invading the opposing goalie box. These efforts were fruitless until the 35th minute, when Andrea Pirlo brilliantly and tactfully widened his legs to allow a pass–stemming from a corner kick ground-pass play–to find Claudio Marchisio at the top of the goalie box unchecked, who subsequently executed a clinical finish. It was fitting that Pirlo essentially created this goal-scoring opportunity, as the veteran offensive architetto (his Italian nickname meaning architect) settled his team’s psyche with his own composure, when, prior to their goal, his fellow teammates turned slightly restless after several close English chances. Pirlo’s presence continued to have this calming effect, as he dictated tempo the entire match.

Sturridge performed his distinctive goal celebration after the tying the game. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

Sturridge performed his distinctive goal celebration after tying the game. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

But only two minutes later, England–in extracting only the best out of urgency in reaction to conceding a goal–ferociously pressed on a counterattack. Sprinting along the left side, Wayne Rooney centered a superb cross right into the path of a gliding Daniel Sturridge, who easily completed his clever run by knocking in the equalizer. Similar to the majority of the team’s threats, the 37th-minute goal emanated from a rapid but controlled run towards the net–embodying how the Three Lions flourished most when agility defined their game flow, having generally established a speedy and intense rhythm.

When the Italian attack clicked in the first half, it was a beauty to watch, made up of sharp, short, and ingenious ball movement compounded with an exquisite touch. The Italians nearly pulled ahead two more times in stoppage time of the first half–the leaping ability of English defender Phil Jagielka and a right-side goalpost the heroes in preventing goals.

However it didn’t take long after the start of the second half for the Azzurri to snatch back the lead. As the Italians pressured relatively quick down the right flank, midfielder Antonio Candreva produced space for himself with on-ball craftiness and fired a cross at the far post, to which Balotelli gravitated, gauging the trajectory of the ball better than his marker did and heading it into the back of the net.

Following the goal, England regained its offensive mentality and developed several dangerous chances, again showing desperation–but in a more useful sense of it–in response to facing a deficit. Despite an eventual defeat, it was very positive display of decisiveness by the English attackers. A group of fearless youngsters, once doubted prior to the tourney about how they would react to the spotlight, best expressed this idea of dispelling any hesitancy or timidity; so far, they’ve handled the stage expertly with a free-flowing and quick style.

Yielding a fair amount of shots on goal in early first half action, the experienced Italian defense gradually solidified throughout the course of the game, breaking down England’s inventiveness especially in one-on-one drives down the wings. Italy’s fullbacks simply shut down English attackers on the flanks and disallowed potentially dangerous crosses from entering the goalmouth, a development that became more and more clear as the match progressed into the last quarter of game-time.

Furthermore, late into the second half, the heat and humidity in Manaus eventually exhausted both teams, and especially weakened any remaining English onslaughts. Nevertheless, while the winner in Italy can rejoice in discovering the power of a creative offensive attack in conjunction with its traditional dominant defense, England should salvage some good from this game as well: a newfound electric and opportunistic style–arising from the effective mix of swiftness and explosiveness from younger players (particularly Sturridge and Raheem Sterling) and the leadership from older ones–was put on display Saturday, one that could certainly allow the Three Lions to prevail over their next two opponents in group competition.