THE DAY REPLAYED: Francesco Totti is a hero to Italian fans but one with a flawed track record at big tournaments. A failed campaign by player and country in Korea/Japan four years ago was followed by disgrace at UEFA EURO 2004 when the midfielder was dismissed for a spitting incident. It is a statement of fact that Italy's most famous player had some making up to do with his worshippers.
Totti's dream was to make an impact at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany but it almost passed him by, a broken ankle sustained in February threatening to heap more tournament misery on his broad shoulders. Today began disappointingly as he learned he was not to figure in the starting line-up but his penalty in added time enabled ten-man Italy to see off the persistent challenge of Australia and a repayment of some of those dues.
The Azzurri next go to Hamburg to face Ukraine in Friday's quarter-final after the debutants removed Switzerland in a penalty shoot-out - the first of this competition. The Swiss missed all three of their spot-kicks but bow out having not conceded a goal in four games.
For teams with a current FIFA/Coca-Cola Ranking of 13 and 42 respectively, the Italy-Australia match was a much closer affair than many had predicted. Underdogs they may have been, but the inclination to lay down in any sporting contest does not figure in an Aussie's DNA. Guus Hiddink's men pushed the three-times winners all the way, up to the 90-minute mark and beyond by which time Italy's followers were beginning to fear the same climax as 2002 when Korea Republic managed by Hiddink - had prevailed in their Round of 16 tie through an extra-time winner.
The clock showed 93 minutes when Fabio Grosso went on the overlap. The full-back burrowed deep into the heart of the Australian penalty area where Lucas Neill went down to make the tackle and Grosso tumbled over him.
Goal of the Day
- Francesco Totti coolness personified from the penalty spot *
Imagine the pressure on Totti - red-carded against the Koreans at this stage four years ago - as he stepped up to the spot but he proved himself the calmest man inside the Fritz-Walter-Stadion by converting with cool assurance. He famously chipped a penalty over a prone Edwin van der Sar in a EURO 2000 semi-final penalty shoot-out with the Netherlands but this one he smashed high into the net.
The *Azzuri * jerseys were soaked in perspiration; on another steaming hot afternoon in the German hothouse, Italy had to work so hard for their victory. Part of that was down to their own profligacy: Luca Toni headed wide in the third minute, headed over in the 34th, and was denied by Mark Schwarzer with a shot on the turn in between times.
Australia had been set up well by Hiddink. They retained possession well, stretched their opponents, and in the second half, with Italy disrupted by the red card for defender Marco Materazzi, began to consistently test Gianluigi Buffon.
Player of the Day
- Gianluigi Buffon - some vital saves*
So much pressure in fact that the Juventus goalkeeper Buffon picked up the Budweiser Man of the Match honours, though the pick of his day's work came in the first half when he held on as Scott Chipperfield attempted to shoot through him.
Anyone expecting a goal-fest in the day's other Round of 16 fixture in Cologne has not been following the statistics of Switzerland and Ukraine closely enough. The Swiss had completely rejected previous FIFA World Cup trends with their parsimonious ways over the last two weeks.
In their entire history in FIFA World Cups - 22 previous ties before Germany 2006 - they had conceded goals in each and every game, 51 in total. Here, however, they posted clean sheets in all three group games the only team to achieve the feat. And while Ukraine had leaked four goals in their opener against Spain, their previous six games, and subsequent two had seen their goal unbreached.
So it was no surprise when the game reached the 120-minute mark deadlocked at 0-0. Defences dominated, although before half-time Andriy Shevchenko sent a diving header into the turf and up against the woodwork. Shortly after Alexander Frei's free-kick at the other end met the same fate.
Moment of the Day
- Artem Milevskiy's cheeky penalty*
So to the sudden-death decider and after two missed attempts - including Shevchenko's opener - it took a 21-year-old, Artem Milevskiy, who bears the burden of 'the new Shevchenko' to break the deadlock with the deftest chip into the corner of the goal with Pascal Zuberbuehler diving the other way. Two further Swiss misses meant an unwanted first for Kobi Kuhn's men as no team had failed to find the net in a FIFA World Cup shoot-out before. For Ukraine, it left the way clear for Oleg Gusev to drive the Eastern Europeans into a quarter-final with Italy.