Italy, Egypt and USA endured a nerve-racking evening as Group B of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday. At the end of it all the Americans were celebrating as they slipped into second place on goal difference to join section winners Brazil in the semi-finals.
At the start of the night that second qualification slot belonged to the Italians, but in the space of eight disastrous first-half minutes, I Azzurri conceded three goals to the South Americans to find themselves staring at an early and wholly unexpected elimination. It was the first time the Italians had trailed by as many goals at half-time since they went down 6-1 to Yugoslavia in 1957, and despite an improved second-half performance, Marcello Lippi's side failed to reduce the deficit, exiting the tournament in disappointingly tame fashion.
The team best placed to benefit from Italy's heavy defeat was Egypt, third in the group at the start of their match with USA, who were pointless after their opening two games. Yet the north Africans failed to seize their opportunity as Bob Bradley's men surprised them with a committed showing. Charlie Davies opened the way with an early goal, Michael Bradley added a second after a neat combination with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey scored the all-important third with a header, a strike that took the Americans into second, leaving their opponents on the night and the Italians to rue their toothless performances.
Goal of the day
Egypt-USA, Clint Dempsey, '71: While Michael Bradley scored the most aesthetically pleasing of USA's three goals, it was Dempsey's header that proved to be the most important. Despite leading 2-0, the Americans were still heading out of the tournament when Jonathan Spector slung in a centre from the right with 20 minutes remaining. Manoeuvring himself ahead of his marker, Dempsey nodded Spector's cross powerfully past Essam El Hadary and put his side into second place on goal difference, a position they would hold through to the final whistle.
Fortune fails to smile, 37' and 45': When Luis Fabiano took control of Maicon's wayward shot and slotted the ball into the back of the net, Italy probably knew it was not going to be their night, an impression that was confirmed when Andrea Dossena slid Robinho's cross into the back of the net just eight minutes later. In between came a classy finish from Luis Fabiano, a goal that served to underline the gulf between the two sides.
Quick thinking, '21: Charlie Davies used his brain to take advantage of some careless Egyptian defending and set his team on the road to victory in Rustenburg. Davies made the most of Essam El Hadary's fumble, pulling the ball back from the touchline with some fancy footwork and slipping it into the net despite the close attention of a posse of Egyptian defenders. El Hadary's unhappy night was complete when he clashed heads with one of his team-mates and had to be bandaged up.
126 - Italy centre-half and captain Fabio Cannavaro would no doubt have been hoping to celebrate his record-equalling 126th cap in happier circumstances. The Juventus man pulled level with Paolo Maldini's Azzurri tally on a night when the Italians became the first reigning world champions to make a first-round exit from the Confederations Cup since Brazil in 2003.
For a more in-depth statistical look at the day's action, be sure to read FIFA.com's ‘Day 6 in numbers' piece. Click on the link on the right hand side for the full story.
In the crowd
Fleet-footed Brazil forward Robinho has many admirers around the world, though few quite as ardent as one female fan in the stands at Loftus Versfeld this evening. The smitten supporter declared her undying love for the Brazilian idol by holding up a banner bearing the words "Robinho, will you marry me?"
"What made the difference was that USA played the same, no matter if they were losing or winning. That's what made the difference in the end," Perdomo, writing in the FanChat section of the EMIRATES MatchCast during the Egypt-USA game.
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