Italy 1 - 0 Australia A penalty from Totti with the last kick of the game ended a pulsating game that saw the Italians break Aussie hearts.
Cometh the last seconds of normal time, cometh an unlikely saviour. Francesco Totti's appearances in his last two major tournaments ended in disgrace with expulsions for spitting at an opponent and for diving. He came into this tournament in worse shape than Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen put together, still convalescing from a serious injury. Discouraged by his insipid performances in the first-round matches, the manager Marcello Lippi had lost faith in the Roma star and dropped him from the starting line-up.
Yesterday evening, having sent him on as a substitute in desperation late in the second half, Lippi watched Totti convert the penalty that put Italy into the quarter-finals at Australia's expense with only 10 seconds of the indicated three minutes of additional time left on the clock.
The shadow of North Korea and the greatest humiliation in the history of Italian football had loomed over Lippi's team after the expulsion of Marco Materazzi in the 50th minute. Facing the dogged challenge of an Australia team well prepared by Guus Hiddink, they had missed a hatful of chances in the first half and had gradually lost their zest and inventiveness.
How Italy love to suffer. Had the match gone into extra time, a repeat of the embarrassment at Ayresome Park 40 years ago might well have been on the cards. Had the Socceroos been able to conjure up a Pak Do-Ik, indeed, it might have happened even earlier.
There will surely be questions concerning the decision taken by the match referee, Luis Medina Cantalejo of Spain, with the additional three minutes all but expired. Fabio Grosso, Italy's left back, had taken the ball past Marco Bresciano and into the opposing penalty area when he found himself confronted by Lucas Neill, the rock of the three-man Australian rearguard. When Neill, anticipating a move to the byline, thrust out his right leg, Grosso jinked to the right before tumbling over the defender's fallen body. There seemed no intent to foul or even to make an illegal obstruction, but as Grosso went down, Senor Medina went for his whistle.
Totti, the idol of half of Italy's fans and the despair of the other half, was ready for his moment of truth. Having re-spotted the ball at the insistence of the referee, who had been prompted by the Australians, he walked back, turned and without fuss placed a firm shot high beyond Mark Schwarzer's right hand. There was, of course, no time for a restart. In its gut-wrenching finality it was the equivalent of the now-discarded golden goal.
This was a battle between the sleek thoroughbreds of Serie A, whose changing tastes in hairstyles have been making headlines in the Italian papers this week, and the mongrels of Hiddink's squad, who ply their trade in a variety of leagues, some quite modest. For large stretches of the game, and not just after Materazzi's straight red card for a bad foul on Bresciano, the mongrels had the better of it.
To meet this challenge, Hiddink had designed their structure to flood the midfield. Neill and his fellow defenders, Craig Moore and Scott Chipperfield, were expected to deal with the threat of Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino, and they had their hands full throughout the first half, when both men failed to take a string chances that any self-respecting Italian cannoniere might be expected to tuck away.
Gilardino was the first to pay the inevitable price, replaced by Vincenzo Iaquinta at the interval. Ten minutes later, responding to Materazzi's straight red card, Lippi withdrew Toni and sent on a replacement central defender, Andrea Barzagli. His players were starting to look rattled, but Australia were unable to turn doggedness, resilience, alertness, pragmatism and a numerical advantage into genuine chances, perhaps thanks chiefly to the absence of Harry Kewell, who hobbled into the ground on crutches. The Everton midfielder Tim Cahill came closest, heading Bresciano's right-wing corner narrowly over the bar with just 10 minutes remaining.
By then, however, Totti had made his appearance, replacing the plodding figure of the 31-year-old Alessandro Del Piero, unrecognisable as the former golden boy of the Stadio Delle Alpi. Within a minute of his arrival the newly-shorn Totti played a glorious blind pass to Simone Perrotta; a few seconds later he was courting disaster for his team by giving the ball away on the edge of his own penalty area.
Ultimately, however, Totti saved Italy from potential disaster, cost Hiddink the chance of reaching his third World Cup semi-final in a row with three different countries, and perhaps erased the painful memory of earlier periods in the match, when the timidity of Italy's approach had made it seem that Helenio Herrera, the high priest of catenaccio, had taken possession of the soul of Marcello Lippi.Read more at theguardian.com