Italy coach Marcello Lippi was pleased with the way his side came from behind to beat USA in their opening match of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 yesterday, but admitted they had to work hard for the victory in Pretoria.
Substitute Giuseppe Rossi starred for the Azzurri after coming off the bench just short of the hour mark and netting a brace that lifted them joint top of Group B alongside Brazil. The world champions, who were making their debut in the competition, fell 1-0 behind thanks to a Landon Donovan penalty three minutes before half-time.
That strike came shortly after a straight red card was handed to Ricardo Clark for a foul on Gennaro Gattuso. But the introduction of Rossi just before the hour mark turned the game. The Villarreal striker blasted home from 30 metres to equalise, before Daniele De Rossi put Italy in front with 18 minutes left.
Rossi then added the finishing touch in injury time and helped Lippi's team make a perfect start to the tournament. "I must say I was a little bit surprised with the way we started the game," he said. "I thought we should have done better, but there was a little bit of tension. I'm not really sure why, though.
"I think because they created problems for us with they played, the tension tended to grow. But then in the end, we managed to get the ball and get more into the game. They were well organised and made it quite difficult for us, especially their number five player (Oguchi Onyewu) and 17 (Jozy Altidore), who caused us lots of problem. Yes, we won, but it was not easy."
The Italian boss was also pleased with the contribution of his star man Rossi, who he never doubted. He continued: "I must say that balance is really important when you're dealing with a strong opponent like them, but slowly, little by little we started to get into the game and worked ourselves up.
"When their player was sent off, it was not that easy because they are a very strong team. But in the second half when Rossi came in, he was very good and responded immediately. I always thought that he was a great player and this performance has confirmed my trust in him."
Rossi, who was on for a only a minute before he scored, was modest afterward, saying: "At the start of the half, there was lots of nervousness that was there. But strangely enough, when we chatted amongst ourselves, we knew that we had to win the game and there was a strange peace of mind. We knew that we had to win the game and we managed to pull through at the end."
DaMarcus Beasley, a 72nd minute substitute, said that the loss was difficult to take, especially after turning in such a credible performance. "It's a tough loss, but you need to give Italy credit," he said. "They capitalised on our mistakes. We basically kind of game them the game. We had everything under the control and a couple of mistakes put us out of the game.
"But we can take a lot of positives, we had a lot of chances, could have scored more goals. I think it's a little harsh that we didn't get anything out of it, but that's how it goes sometimes. But the boys fought very, very well for 70 minutes and we have to give them credit for that. Still, it's only a first game and hopefully we can give it a good go against Brazil."