Totti penalty ends Aussie fairytale ride
SUBSTITUTE Francesco Totti scored a controversial injury-time penalty to stun Australia and send ten-man Italy into the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Kaiserslautern yesterday.
With the game seemingly heading for extra time, Blackburn Rovers defender Lucas Neill brought down Fabio Grosso inside the area in the fourth minute of injury time and Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo pointed to the spot. Totti, surprisingly excluded from the starting XI and who had only come on 15 minutes earlier, coolly struck the ball past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. The Azzurri now face Ukraine in the quarter-finals on Saturday in Hamburg.
After the game, the Italian striker said that he had proved his worth. "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 because Australia were a strong side. Now I think we can go a long way in this tournament. The important thing [when we went down to ten men] was to keep our heads."
Marco Materazzi's sending-off early in the second half after a two-footed tackle on Mark Bresciano had proved a hammer blow for the Azzurri.
Italy had failed to take advantage of their clear-cut chances in the first half and were forced to defend after the break once Materazzi had been dismissed, but the Socceroos were unable to breakthrough. Australia coach Guus Hiddink was not convinced about the penalty. "Overall you can have doubts about the penalty," he said. "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."
Hiddink's counterpart, Marcello Lippi, had a different view of the game's pivotal moment. "Our defender headed into the area and was taken down for a nailed-on penalty, I think it was something fantastic," Lippi said. "And Totti converted it with real skill."
Pressed about the penalty decision, Lippi said: "There were two fouls on him. He didn't go down under the first and he carried on dribbling and then sustained another clear foul.
"Why?" he asked the news conference. "Does anyone have any doubts about the penalty?"
Defeat left a bitter taste for Australia's players. "I think we dominated the match for many parts and with an extra player it made it easier for us, but it's a really bad way to go out," said captain Mark Viduka.
"We're obviously happy we've got this far, but so disappointed to go out in the fashion we did."
Lippi's decision to drop Totti and play Alessandro Del Piero behind attacking duo Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni was not welcomed by the fans. Hiddink chose Bresciano to replace Liverpool's Harry Kewell, who had failed to recover from a groin injury and turned up at the stadium on crutches, while Schwarzer returned in goal.
The Socceroos began in confident fashion and almost stunned their opponents in the opening minute, with Scott Chipperfield's cross picking out Tim Cahill in the box, but the Everton midfielder could not find any power in his header.
Toni then latched on to Del Piero's dangerous cross and headed inches wide of the far post, while Chipperfield made a vital block with Gilardino ready to shoot. Schwarzer saved well with his leg after Toni controlled Andrea Pirlo's long ball before unleashing a fierce shot. Gianluigi Buffon was forced to dive to his left to save Chipperfield's powerful effort from close-range in what was the Aussies' best chance of the opening half.
Five minutes after the restart the referee showed a straight red to Materazzi for a two-footed tackle on Bresciano.
The Aussies failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority, then with 30 seconds remaining, Grosso and Totti came to the rescue to help the Azzurri march on.
Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso, Del Piero (Totti 75), Perrotta, Gattuso, Pirlo, Gilardino (Iaquinta 45), Toni (Barzagli 55). Subs not used: Zaccardo, Peruzzi, Amelia, Camoranesi, Barone, Inzaghi, Oddo, Nesta.
Australia: Schwarzer, Chipperfield, Neill, Moore, Culina, Wilkshire, Cahill, Grella, Bresciano, Sterjovski (Aloisi 81), Viduka. Subs not used: Popovic, Skoko, Kalac, Kennedy, Lazaridis, Covic, Beauchamp, Kewell, Thompson, Milligan.
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