Italy won't underestimate U.S. at Confed Cup
PRETORIA, South Africa -- The only bright spot for the United States at an otherwise dismal 2006 World Cup was a 1-1 tie with Italy.
The Americans exited following the first round. The Azzurri went on to win every other match and take the title for the fourth time.
They meet again Monday in their opener at the Confederations Cup, a warmup for next year's World Cup in South Africa.
"Italy is going to be favored," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "The pressure will be on them, and we want to go out there and show that we can play with them and get a good result."
Coming at the midpoint of the final round of World Cup qualifying, the eight-nation Confederations Cup is a challenge for the United States. After playing the Azzurri, the Americans face South American champion Brazil on Thursday and African champion Egypt on Sunday.
"This is the most important match," said Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who quit after the World Cup, then replaced Roberto Donadoni following last year's European Championship. "We've got to beat the United States because if the first game goes well, then so will the following games. Whereas if it goes badly, it will be tougher for us to recover."
Lippi's starting lineup most likely will contain nine members of the World Cup team. Among them is midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who bloodied the face of U.S. forward Brian McBride with his elbow in the lasting image of that game at Kaiserslautern in 2006.
De Rossi drew a four-game ban, ruling him out for most of the World Cup. The intensely physical game ended with only 19 men on the field -- 10 for Italy, nine for the United States.
"That match was a very memorable match to be a part of. I think all the players and people in the stadium will never forget it," U.S. forward Landon Donovan said. "This will be a different game, but Italy is a team we know well. There won't be any surprises."
The U.S. will be missing four injured players who didn't make the trip: defenders Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk, midfielder Maurice Edu and forward Brian Ching. Bocanegra is nicked up and could be replaced by Jay DeMerit.
Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro is out with an ailing right calf and replacement Nicola Legrottaglie is doubtful because of a leg muscle problem.
"The U.S. puts all of its emphasis on a physical game, and they should not be underestimated," said defender Giorgio Chiellini, who will likely anchor the Azzurri's injury-depleted defense.
The teams have met just six times, with Italy winning 7-1 at the 1934 World Cup and 1-0 at the 1990 World Cup, with both those matches in Rome.
"We have our work cut out for us. We didn't get out of our group last time and obviously that's the goal," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We're going to certainly have to focus on Italy and not look too far forward."
Howard was referring the 2003 Confederations Cup in France, where the U.S. lost to Turkey and Brazil, then tied Cameroon.
This is the first Confederations Cup for Italy and the fourth for the United States, which finished third at Saudi Arabia in 1992 and third again at Mexico in 1999.
"Any time you get a chance to play Italy or another top team like the ones we will be facing is great," Bocanegra said. "This is how you challenge yourself, and it's what you measure yourself against. These are the best teams in the world and we want to see how we rate against them. It's a good challenge for our team."
The American back line has struggled this year, especially on the outside, although Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein showed improvement in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Honduras in Chicago on June 6.
"When you play Italy everyone must play hard and contribute," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We have great respect for Italy and we're looking forward to the challenge."
While Italy has the tournament's oldest squad, with an average age of nearly 30, the Americans are the youngest, more than three years younger than Italy on average.
"When you approach competitions like these, you can't permit yourself to think you're better than any opponent," Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. "We're here to win."
Giuseppe Rossi, a New Jersey-born forward who plays for Italy, could see action off the bench after scoring in a 3-0 exhibition victory over Northern Ireland on June 6.
"He is a great little player and he's going to do great things for the national team," Lippi said. "Now whether that's tomorrow, next Sunday or in the months and years ahead is still to be determined."