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Italy vs. USA, foul by foul

The U.S. has a lifeline in the tournament, thanks to a hard-earned 1-1 draw vs. Italy in Kaiserslautern. This may have been the most important point in the modest history that is U.S. soccer.

It was a strange game, marred by the dismissal of one Italian and two Americans. But amid the tempest triggered by two rash challenges and a series of questionable refereeing decisions, this was a riveting match with plenty of football skill displayed by both sides, and crucial saves made by both keepers. The determined American performance, along with the crowd in full voice, suggest once again that soccer is coming of age in the U.S.

Reactions to this emotional match are all over the map. Italians, predictably, are down on their team. American TV commentators, predictably, went berserk over the two red cards given the U.S. by the referee. British opinion is split. The BBC's Chris Waddle agrees, at least in part, with the American view: "The officials were rubbish. This is the greatest football tournament in the world and they were not up to the job." But The Times' Rob Hughes referred to the game as "ugly," Eddie Pope as "aggressive" and "reckless." Mastroeni's challenge was "vicious," and he blamed Bocanegra for a challenge which effectively finished the night of Perotta. Hughes states that all three red cards were deserved, that the three yellows "could have turned the deeper colour," and that "Ugliness had finished the contest that neither side deserved to win."

I normally respect the observations of Rob Hughes, but his column made me wonder if we'd watched the same match yesterday. So I went to my Tivo and examined every foul committed in the match. Here they are, along with my commentary. I think that anyone who takes a close look at this match will find that Rob Hughes was off the mark in his column. This match had two bad challenges, a lot of good football, and a large number of questionable refereeing decisions (against both sides). I think Hughes owes both sides, and Eddie Pope in particular, an apology.

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Minute Player Comment
10 sec! Pope Pushes Gilardino in the back, who takes a tumble
1 Donavan Handball
2 Reyna An Italian player falls, appears to be untouched; heavy booing ensues
3 Onyewu Pushes Gilardino, who falls
5 Onyewu Has hands on Toni, who flops
5 Totti Totti booked for tripping Dempsey; a harsh decision
6 Bocanegra Barges into Italian player on the sideline
9 Onyewu Body contact with back of Toni
11 Mastroeni Mastroeni slides in front of Toni missing the ball; Pope is behind Toni, who gets sandwiched
12 0 No foul here (though one was called) - that was a Totti flop
13 Cherundolo Outruns then steps in front of the advancing Zambrotta, who lowers his shoulder and gets the call
14 Nesta Scythes down Convey on the edge of the "D"
17 -- De Rossi's first aerial lunge into McBride goes unpunished
21 Pope Pope and Gilardino chase a long ball; Pope has his arm on the Italian's back; Gilardino has his elbow in the American's stomach with a fistful of shirt; they tumble. Yellow for Pope which is what Gilardino was aiming for the whole time. A soft yellow, about which the ref took plenty of time to reach for the card. Perhaps Pope was interpreted as the last man, but this was a harsh decision, presumably to even up the booking of Totti
22 Mastroeni Silly barge into Totti; leads to the goal
24 -- Interesting sequence. US free kick into the box; Buffon climbs over Cannavaro to clear and clobbers him; Cannavaro gets up immediately, but Nesta waves his hand to stop play, and Cannavaro dutifully falls back down
25 -- Cannavaro & McBride: physical clash over a 50-50 from Keller's kick; Cannavaro tumbles but is not told to stay down by Nesta & gets straight up
25 Perotta Mastroeni has been taking notes from the Italians, and falls over Perotta's idle left leg
26 Cannavaro Cannavaro fells Reyna on the touchline; leads to the US goal. Note: on the free kick, De Rossi barges into Bocanegra, taking him out of the play. By my count, this is his third foul in the penalty box in this World Cup, having committed two vs. Ghana in the opening round. This exposes a problem both with De Rossi's temperment and calling the game so tight in the rest of the field -- it exacerbates the double standard due to the refs' hesitation to award penalty kicks
28 De Rossi Throws an elbow into McBride's face; clear red card. Captain Cannavaro shoves the whining De Rossi off the pitch. Coach Lippi, who has apparently seen the same World Cup I have: "his umpteenth stupid mistake"
30 Toni Barges over Reyna
34 Mastroeni Tugs at Toni near midfield; Pope is involved too
35 Mastroeni Catches Pirlo's foot; Commentator Balboa says dive, but no complaint from Mastroeni
36 Toni Might have pushed Onyewu in battle for Buffon's long ball
38 Mastroeni Loses aerial challenge to Gattuso's barge; responds with dangerous high boot; first sign of the red mist falling on him
39 McBride Aerial challenge on Gattuso
40 Reyna Fells Gattuso
45 Mastroeni A mistimed challenge - he has the ball a split second earlier - but the tackle is a split second late, hence it results in a nasty set of studs on Pirlo's ankle. The ref wasted no time in reaching for the red card.
45+2 Onyewu Simple clash and Toni falls
1st Half Summary: The bookings to Totti and Pope were harsh. The US was physical but not nasty in the least, with the exception of Mastroeni's challenge on Pirlo. Even that, however, was mistimed but it was not with malicious intent: he was going for the ball and not the man, unlike earlier fouls from both sides. Had Mastoreni not just committed a string of fouls, he might have escaped with a yellow. I don't think the ref can be faulted for this call, however.
46 Onyewu Gilardino feels Gooch on his back and flops again
46 Pope Here is where the ref loses the plot. A great ball by Gattuso threatens to put Gilardino through. Pope's challenge fells him, and the ref does not hesitate to bring out the yellow. Reyna goes nuts. The ref pulls out his book, sees Pope's number in it, and pulls out the red. His quick trigger and lack of judgment, shown in the first half cards to Totti and Pope, is revealed again. This was not a bright line bookable offense. No studs, from the side, Pope gets the ball before his foot meets Gilardino's.
47 McBride McBride and Cannavaro leap for the ball. On the way down, McBride's boot catches Cannavaro's ankle. Ref gives a lecture to captain Reyna.
51 Dempsey Pushes Gattuso, who falls
54 Cannavaro Push on Dempsey, who falls
55 Conrad Has his arms on the back of an Italian player, who does not fall. Ref calls a foul anyway.
57 no-call Onyewu has his arm on the back of Toni, who puts it out of bounds instead of falling, thereby failing to get the customary free kick for an American arm on his back, and becomes briefly annoyed.
60 no-call Ball-to-hand of Nesta in the penalty area; right call.
65 no-call Perotta and Bocanegra clash, both diving for a 50-50. Perotta gets the worst of it and is hobbled for the rest of the match (and can't be substituted). Beasley's disallowed goal follows shortly. It would have been controversial since Bocanegra arguably should have put the ball out of play, rather than teeing up Beasley. McBride, to his credit, appears to inform Beasley that he'd obstructed the keeper.
68 no-call Gilardino flops, again, in the American "D" but fails to get his customary free kick
70 Zambrotta A ridiculous booking for a push on Cherundolo, who got past him, but was heading nowhere.
75 no-call Onyewu beats Gilardino again, who flaps the air in disgust.
75 Del Piero Chops down Cherundolo; not a nasty foul by any means, but that was the clear intent.
77 no-call McBride slides into Pirlo who wants a call but doesn't get it.
80 Zambrotta Climbs the back of an American on the corner.
83 Zambrotta Pushed Cherondolo attempting to get past him in the US penalty area.
89 no-call Conrad had a grip on Iaquinta's shirt in the box and concedes a corner. A penalty would have been harsh, but that was risky
89 Cannavaro Pushed McBride on the ensuing corner, who fell
91 Beasley Hand ball
Summary: The play This was a tense, emotional, hard fought match between two good, but not great sides. It had one bad tackle (Mastroeni) and one ugly elbow (De Rossi). The US was physically aggressive, but did not set out to tear the Italian's limbs and shins apart. Arena got the tactics spot-on by playing McBride alone up front, flooding the midfield and denying space to Italy. Italy got a few early calls by going to ground easily, but that tactic dried up in the second half.
The refs The refereeing was just generally poor, for both sides. Three bad offside calls and two undeserved bookings for Italy. Pope did not deserve to be sent off. One could make a case either way in the Mastroeni incident, but a quick trigger was evident here as well. The apoplectic reaction of the ABC commentators is par for the course. Soccer commentary should improve here in the future, although British reaction to the BBC's coverage reminds us that experience doesn't guarantee excellence. Rob Hughes' column in the Times was out of order. Let's hope it was out of character too.