PRETORIA, South Africa -- As defending World Cup champion Italy continues its preparations for the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, the players say they are taking their opening match with the U.S. very seriously, with the memory of the 2006 first-round draw at the World Cup in Germany still fresh.
After defeating New Zealand 4-3 in Rustenburg on Wednesday, the Italians wrapped up their formal slate of friendlies Friday night in Tshwane against a team of select stars from local South African Premier League sides. The South African team, composed mainly of players from Premier League champion Supersport United, put up little resistance for the defending world champions, falling 6-0.
After the match, Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi said he feels the team is prepared for Monday's opening match against the United States.
"We are definitely ready, we've prepared well, and we played well in this game," said De Rossi, who was sent off in the first half of that World Cup game in 2006 (for an elbow on Brian McBride). "It will be a very difficult game. They have improved so much on a national level and will give us a serious game, it will be very tough."
If De Rossi will be looking to erase the memory of his sending off against the Americans, another player looking forward to Monday's matchup with the United States, for different reasons, is forward Giuseppe Rossi. Rossi, who was born in the U.S. and spent most of his childhood in New Jersey, moved to Italy at the age of 13 to play for Parma's youth team.
"That's the country where I was born, and that's the country where I have my family and friends," Rossi said of the U.S. "It's going to be a great game to watch, and for me to play against them is always something special."
Rossi has provided a series of good performances for the Italians since being called in to the first team this summer, after impressing in Spain with club team Villarreal. The former Manchester United player scored his first international goal in a friendly win over Northern Ireland last week, and is a possible starter for Monday's match. Rossi said looking beyond the Confederations Cup, he is anxious to return to South Africa a year from now to fulfill his dream of playing for Italy in a World Cup.
"Playing in the World Cup is always a dream for everybody, not just mine," Rossi said. "The facilities are great here, the people are great. It's going to be a nice Confederations Cup here, and I'm sure its going to be a great World Cup."
The Italians take on the U.S. on Monday evening at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, in the opening game of the Confederations Cup for both teams.
Brent Latham covers U.S. Soccer for ESPNsoccernet. Based in Dakar, Senegal, he also covers West Africa for Voice of America radio and can be reached at email@example.com.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Italy
Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa
2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360
U.S. vs. Brazil
Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa
9:55 a.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360
U.S. vs. Egypt
Rustenburg, South Africa
2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360