Italy 2-3 Belgium: the Azzurrini’s Olympic adventure ends in the Quarter-Finals. And it’s such a shame too, because the gold medal (which talent-wise was well within the Azzurrini’s reach, also because Brazil/Argentina were on the opposite side of the table) will remain a mirage for Casiraghi’s boys. Dominating most of the game against a tough, organized Belgian side (who played over 60 minutes with 10 men due to Vermaelen’s early red card), the Italians could not make full use of their numerical advantage, conceding three goals in a single game (after conceding none in the group stage) and forcing Giuseppe Rossi & friends to an early departure from the tournament.
And so, after the Women’s foil team and Men’s Water Polo, Italy gets another disappointment from Beijing today, partly due to their own demerits (too many mistakes in defense, wrong attitude on the field) and partly because of controversial reffing decisions (South Korea 2002 would perhaps too risky a comparison, but let’s just say Belgium’s first goal did not cross the line and that Italy were denied two clear penalty shots in the 2nd half). I won’t play the conspiracy theory card, but surely one expected better from an Olympic tournament…
(From Gazzetta): BEIJING (China), 16 August 2008 – After getting a glimpse of gold (or at least, the possibility of playing for it), Italy failed before they had the chance to try. The Azzurrini were sent packing in the quarter-finals, despite having two penalties awarded to them and almost one hour of one-man advantage. Belgium proved to be the feared squad the Italians had anticipated: strong, intelligent and with talented players rising above the rest (in particular Moussa Dembélé, who scored two goals, and Kevin Mirallas). As much as Belgium played well though, Italy allowed their opponents too much freedom at the wrong time. And when the dagger struck, it was an ice-cold shower for the Italians… a real blow. Based on what we saw in 90 minutes of play though, it can’t be considered a scandal.
To say the least, Italy’s first half had nothing in common with the performance we saw in their first two matches, when the team had played a free albeit organised game, giving room to showcase their talent but always maintaining a good tactical balance. Today during the first 45 minutes, this proved their main falling point (alongside a serious lack of lucidity): the Azzurri were too nervous, made too many mistakes, had too many players away from their positions, and all this despite the positive turn the match had taken in minute 17.
BELGIAN RED CARD - Except for one player (Motta for De Silvestri at right-back), Casiraghi had selected the same line-up he used vs. Honduras. The rest remained the same: Viviano in goal; defensive line formed by Bocchetti & Criscito in the center, De Ceglie on the left; Cigarini in midfield with Montolivo and Nocerino on the flanks; and in front Acquafresca supported by Rossi and Giovinco. Speaking of, the Juventus player had the chance to open the score just after 6 minutes of play, but his close-range effort on a good Montolivo cross ended on the outside of the goal mesh. Eleven minutes later, the possible turning point: through on goal, Robert Acquafresca was restrained and knocked down by Vermaelen right in front of the Belgian goalkeeper. The clear goalscoring opportunity meant penalty for Italian and a red card for Belgium. Joe Red stepped up for the spot-shot, and the Azzurrini were in the lead. 1-0 Italy.
EARLY MISTAKE – Belgium were thus reduced to play with 10 men for over an hour, but right after their lead (and for a good 20 minutes after that) Italy could not benefit from the numerical superiority. The equalizing goal they conceded just 7 minutes later did not help either. Moussa Dembélé headed in a corner-kick straight at Cigarini, and although the ball had not fully crossed the line (see image below and KwSport sequence here) the linesman raised his flag to signal a goal. Hard to tell, right? In these cases, advantage is given to the defensive team… but 1-1 nevertheless.
Eventually a few minutes before the break, Italy regrouped and finally got within the Belgium danger-zone. In minute 43, Giovinco had the chance to return Italy’s lead (exploiting an error by the Belgian defence) but the Bianconero’s diagonal shot was too wide. Close, but no cigar. Actually, the ones smoking it would be the Belgians, deep into stoppage time: Kevin Mirallas received with his back to the net, and with no interference from Bocchetti managed to turn and put the ball past Viviano. 2-1 Belgium.
There was plenty of time left for an Italian comeback, but first half cold shower had left Casiraghi’s team frigid and uninspired. Despite a clear domination in ball possession, the Azzurrini didn’t get back in the game until minute 73, when Argentine referee Baldassi finally called a foul inside the Belgian box (De Roover & Vanden Borre “sandwich” on De Ceglie). Just before that, two very suspicious trips on Rossi and Abate had been virtually ignored (actually, Rossi received a yellow card for diving). Joe Red stepped up again and scored his second P.K. of the night. 2-2.
Still playing 11 on 10, the Azzurini were definitely expected to push for victory at this point but once more, Belgium managed to pull the chair out from under them. On a well-executed (or poorly defended by the Azzurri, whichever you prefer) counter-attack, Dembelé overtook four Italian players and finished with a strong left-footer inside Viviano’s net. 3-2 Belgium. Italian morale down the drain. To add insult to injury, Viviano lost his cool after the goal and was shown a red card for chasing and tugging Mirallas (who had… inadvertently…(?) thrown the ball in his face).
During the last fifteen minutes of play (including stoppage time) the Italians were eagerly trying to even the score, but now that numerical superiority was over, Belgium’s iron curtain was more efficient than ever. The Italian dream was thus (and much earlier than expected) over. On the upside, Serie A teams will be glad to get their players back. Magra consolazione, as they say…
|GOALSCORERS: 18’ pen., 74’ pen. Rossi (I), 24’, 79’ Dembele (B), 45’ Mirallas (B)|
|ITALY (4-3-2-1): Viviano – Motta (80’ Consigli), Bocchetti, Criscito, De Ceglie – Montolivo, Cigarini (61’ Abate, 83’ Candreva), Nocerino – G.Rossi, Giovinco – Acquafresca. (bench: Dessena, Coda, De Silvestri, Russotto). Coach: Casiraghi|
|BELGIUM (4-2-3-1): Bailly (68’ Ma-Kalambay) – De Roover, Simaeys, Vermaelen, Pocognoli – Haroun, Vertonghen – De Mul (94’ Mulemo), Dembele, Martens (65’ Vanden Borre) – Mirallas. (bench: De Winter, Odidja-Ofoe, Ciman, Fellain). Coach: De Sart.|