Despite scoring first, ten-man USA were eventually undone 3-1 by a patient and effective Italy in the first match in Tshwane/Pretoria at this FIFA Confederations Cup. Landon Donovan scored first for the US from the spot, but second-half goals by New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi, twice, and Daniele de Rossi earned I Azzurri victory.
The fancied Italians took hold of the ball in midfield and dominated possession in the early stages. An early grass-cutter from Alberto Gilardino in the 13th minute was the first real chance of the affair but it hardly troubled US keeper Tim Howard, who scooped it up gratefully.
Italy had a golden chance seven minutes later when Andrea Pirlo picked out Gilardino again with a free-kick, only for the Fiorentina man to flash his acrobatic header wide of the target from close range. The Americans responded with two great opportunities shortly after, but Michael Bradley and the Jozy Altidore both failed to make the most of some excellent service from Donovan, standing in as captain for the injured Carlos Bocanegra.
A major turning point came in the 33rd minute. Energetic Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark, playing in his first major international competition, lunged petulantly at Gennaro Gattuso in midfield and Chilean referee Pablo Pozo wasted no time in producing a straight red card. However, far from demoralising them, the sending off acted as a spur for the Americans.
In the 40th minute, Giorgio Chiellini hauled down young USA striker Jozy Altidore and a penalty was awarded. Donovan, his country's all-time leading marksman, kept his cool to slot past Gianluigi Buffon and give his team a shock 1-0 lead.
The Americans started the second period with Altidore ploughing a lone furrow up front, forced into a conservative posture. All the pressure was squarely on the Italians to get themselves back into the match.
The inspiration came - almost as if dictated by fate - from substitute Rossi. The USA-born Villarreal striker took the ball off Clint Dempsey in midfield with his first touch of the ball in the 58th minute, inside 50 seconds of coming on to the pitch, raced towards the US goal and unleashed a vicious left-foot strike past Howard from 30 yards and into the top corner.
After the equaliser, the Italians were in firm control. And in the 71st minute, Daniele de Rossi, who was sent off the last time the two teams met at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany™, turned an unleashed a low drive from the edge of the box that snuck by two American defenders and just past Howard, nestling in the side netting.
Rossi rubbed salt into the wounds of his birth country four minutes into stoppage time, slamming a half-volley home from close range to make it 3-1. It signalled the end of a brave fight by the Americans and Italy now move to the top of Group B, even with Brazil on three points.
USA will be in action again on 18 June when they take on Brazil in Tshwane/Pretoria. Marcello Lippi's men next meet up with Egypt in Johannesburg the same day.