Italy have a pair of similarly-named stars, Giuseppe Rossi and Daniele de Rossi, to thank for their lofty position at the summit of a highly competitive Group B at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. The former, an ex-Manchester United striker now with Spanish outfit Villarreal, scored the first and third in a 3-1 come-from-behind win over USA, while the latter thundered home the second from distance.
Both men have complex, even troublesome connections to the USA, which added drama and tension to their South Africa 2009 opener in Pretoria. Rossi, 22, was born into a family of Italian immigrants in Teaneck, New Jersey, while De Rossi was sent off the last time Italy played the Americans, during the group stage at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. The Roma midfielder subsequently received a four-match ban, only returning as a used substitute in the victory over France in the Final.
"Part of my heart is in the United States," Rossi, born a few miles outside of New York City, told FIFA.com after the win at Tshwane/Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium. "I am proud of my American heritage and my family and friends are there. But I made the decision to play for Italy and when I'm on the field I do everything I can to help the team win."
Rossi's impact on the Italians' first game could hardly have been more profound. Entering the pitch in the 57th minute, with Marcello Lippi's side trailing 1-0, he wasted no time in stripping Clint Dempsey of the ball in the centre-circle with his first touch, before roaring forward and unleashing a 30-yard drive that left goalkeeper Tim Howard, his former team-mate at United, grasping at thin air. The goal came within 40 seconds of Rossi's entrance and it sparked a massive comeback for Italy, who were having a hard time breaking down the ten-man US, who had Ricardo Clark sent off after a half-hour of play.
"In the second half we came out more determined, hungrier, ready to fight our way back into the game," continued Rossi, who capped a fabulous night with the third goal, a scintillating half-volley in stoppage time. "It's always great to score and it was an emotional thing for me. When I saw the ball go into the net for my first goal, I couldn't have been more excited because we were in trouble and it helped us get back into the game."
USA coach Bob Bradley also recognised the importance of Rossi's contributions on the night. "It was our hope that he (Rossi) would play for us (the US)," he said with an air of sober resignation. "He's a very talented young man and it must be a very happy night for him. For us, though, it's a disappointing one.
De Rossi redeemed
Between Rossi's pair of sparkling strikes, De Rossi managed to make his mark in a fixture that will surely have had sour connotations for him. The midfielder collected the ball on 72 minutes with his back to goal, swivelled and fired a low drive from nearly 30 yards that eluded two defenders and slipped past Howard and into the corner of the net. Named Budweiser Man of the Match, De Rossi's goal capped an industrious performance alongside Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gatusso in midfield, surely helping to banish the ghosts of the last meeting between the two teams in Kaiserslautern in 2006.
"Scoring a goal is a nice feeling," De Rossi said. "The most important thing on that night was not our style or our technique, but rather our spirit and our collective bond as a team. This, in my opinion, made the difference."
Rossi, who finished top scorer at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, was in total agreement with his colleague. "We try to win every game no matter who we play. This is our team motto. Up next we have some tough ones with Egypt and Brazil, but we will be true to our motto. We're not worried about who we play, we just want to win," he concluded, two days ahead of Italy's next test against Egypt, who stretched the mighty Brazil in their opener.