Italy have not lost to the US in over 75 years of competitive football. However, Bob Bradley's Americans are hoping to spring a surprise in the two sides' opening match of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.
USA-Italy, 15 June, 20h30 (local time), Tshwane/Pretoria
Defending world champions Italy face a potential banana skin in their 2009 Confederations Cup opener against reigning CONCACAF kings the USA. The Americans are currently in a rich vein of form, losing only twice in their last 13 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers and fresh off a come-from-behind win over Honduras just seven days ago. The Italians, though blessed with world-class talent throughout the team and on top of European Zone qualifying Group 9 for South Africa 2010, have not played a competitive match since 1 April.
Italy will take heart from a pair of friendly wins since arriving on South African soil, a 4-3 result against Oceania representatives New Zealand and a 6-0 rout of a local Pretoria XI Select squad. The Americans, for their part, arrive in Africa with a strong, youthful squad. Coach Bob Bradley, who took over from former mentor Bruce Arena after the failures of the last FIFA World Cup finals in Germany in 2006, has assembled a team bristling with spirit and optimism, if a little short on experienced campaigners.
In nine meetings historically, Italy have never lost to the USA. The two first met in the opening game of the 1934 FIFA World Cup, where Italy ran out 7-1 winners. The last clash between the two ended in a 1-1 draw, in Kaiserslautern at Germany 2006.
Landon Donovan-Andrea Pirlo
With a raft of sturdy players throughout his team, USA coach Bradley will need the creative influence of Landon Donovan to be on display. On the other side of the pitch, and in the same withdrawn striker role, will be Andrea Pirlo. One of the most elegant and improvisational playmakers in the modern game, the AC Milan man could well make the difference for the Italians. If the last meeting between the two teams, the 1-1 draw in Kaiserslautern, is any indication, the game in Pretoria may well be a fierce physical battle. If so, the slightest creative spark may swing the balance.
28 & 7 - With an average age of 28 years and 7 months, the Italians are the oldest team at the 2009 edition of the Confederations Cup. Even so, Lippi's men boast one of the tournament's youngest lads in Inter Milan's teenage revelation David Santon.
Did you know?
Striker Giuseppe Rossi could well have been lining up for the United States in the Confed opener, rather than Italy. Born in Teaneck, New Jersey to Italian immigrant, Rossi - who has played for Manchester United, Newcastle and now Villarreal in Spain - could not resist the pull of the old continent. Having lined up at every level of Italy's youth system, he officially pledged his future to the Azzurri on October of 2008, appearing in a senior game against Bulgaria and finally putting an end to a protracted tug-of-war.
"This first game with the United States is obviously the most important for us. They are a quality opponent, eager, and a strong team that are difficult to break down. We need to keep totally focused on this first game because it will set the rhythm for us. It could make or break us," Italy coach Marcello Lippi
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Can the eager Americans spring a surprise and earn their first win in history against the much-fancied Italians, or will the Azzurri hold sway as expected? Click on 'add your comment' below and sound off.