Rossi's emotional opener
Giuseppe Rossi was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, a few miles from New York City, to Italian immigrants. He attended primary school, grew up and played his youth football on the USA's east coast, but set off to Italy at the age of 12 to enter Parma's academy. He speaks perfect English and fluent Italian. He is a young man of two worlds, and he holds two passports.
"The USA means a lot to me," Rossi, fresh from scoring the sixth goal in Italy's defeat of a local Pretoria/Tshwane Select XI, told FIFA.com. "I was born there, my family is there. But my dream was always to play for Italy. It was something I had in my heart."
Rossi's decision to opt for the country of his ancestors (he won his first senior cap last year to put the issue beyond doubt) rather than that of his birth was no surprise, though it did anger and disappoint more than a few American fans. The Villarreal striker had lined up previously at every level of the Italian youth system. Still, turning his back on the US, where he spent his formative years and has firm friend and family connections, was no easy decision.
"It was a really tough choice for me to make," said Rossi, who respectfully declined an invitation to play for USA ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. "I felt like the better choice for me was to try to play for Italy. As a player you always want to play at the highest level. The US is a very good team and I was flattered at the offer to play for them, but Italy was the right choice for me."
Now, as fate would have it, the youngster is set to make his first international appearance in a global competition against his beloved USA. "It's going to be a special day for me, you can believe that," Rossi added before boarding the team coach, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans from the Atterridgeville Township on the outskirts of Pretoria. "I just hope to get on the field and do what I can to help us get a win. The game will be difficult for me. I want the USA to do well, I support them. So it will be a special day, and a tough day at the same time."
With attacking options aplenty in the Italian camp, like Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella, it is unclear whether Rossi, still just 20 and rumoured to be a close-season target for Juventus, will get a chance to play against USA on 15 June in the Pretoria opener. But the man who scored 12 league goals for Villarreal in the 2008/09 season has a very simple goal.
"At the end of this tournament I want to be running around a field with the trophy in my hands," said the former Parma and Manchester United player, who poached his first senior goal earlier this month after finishing top scorer for Italy's U-23s at last year's Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. "I want to do everything I can to help us achieve something here."
Although the Italians have not played a competitive game since 1 April, Rossi is convinced that two friendlies here in South Africa - a 4-3 win over New Zealand and the 6-0 success at SuperSport United's SuperStadium - will have them in good stead ahead of their opener. "We've got a couple of games under our belt now," concluded Rossi, whose worlds are set to collide on Monday. "It was a little shaky at first, but we're coming together as a team now and we're scoring goals. I think we're just about where we need to be."
Only time will tell whether Marcello Lippi's world champions are fully on track, but young Rossi, his eyes keen and his desire palpable, certainly seems to be right where he needs to be.