Italy, which is preparing for the European Women's Championships in June, came out in a low-pressure defense with hopes of winning the ball in midfield to launch their vaunted counter-attacks.
A tentative U.S. team was far too cooperative in contributing to the Italian tactics in the first half, as they were content to possess the ball in the back, but struggled to send penetrating passes to their midfielders and forwards, then lost numerous balls in their defensive half of the field, many of which led to Italian attacks. The young U.S. midfield struggled to maintain possession against the quick and aggressive Italians, who found their rhythm after 20 minutes and came at the Americans for the rest of the half.
"In the first half we played with fear, in the second half we played with courage and risk taking with the ball at our feet," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "More players were willing to pass the ball forward. Everyone responded to this change and we created more chances in the second half."
The U.S. team was fortunate to enter halftime having not allowed a goal as the Italian striking duo of Patrizia "The Scorpion" Panico and Rita Guarino -- who proved the more dangerous of the two -- each had their chances.
In the 8th minute, a long punt from Italian goalkeeper Giorgia Brenzan was flicked through to the streaking Guarino, but Katherine Reddick ran her down and tackled the ball before she could shoot. The U.S. defense of Reddick, Ally Marquand, Anna Kraus, and Jena Kluegel did a fine job of keeping the clamps on Panico, who is the leading scorer in the Italian first Division, and frustrated the fiery striker with some physical play.
Panico did get around the U.S. defense in the 30th and 33rd minutes, sending crosses from the right side, but each was cleared by a scrambling defender, the latter seeing Kraus force Guarino to shoot high as they both tumbled to the ground in a heap.
In the 35th minute, the USA turned the ball over in midfield and Panico fed Guarino inside the penalty area, but the Italian forward somehow managed to shoot wide from close range as U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo closed the angle. In stoppage time, Guarino had another chance from almost the same place in the penalty area, but kicked the ground instead of the ball, allowing the Americans to go into the locker room with a 0-0 tie.
Italy saw a different U.S. team in the second half as the young Americans played with more confidence and an aggressiveness that produced 25 fouls in the match. Just three minutes into the second half, Kluegel launched a cross from the left flank that Christie Welsh could not quite reach, hitting a soft shot right to Brenzen, Italy's 34-year-old captain.
The USA, which failed to take a shot in the first half, had its first real chance of the game in the 53rd minute when Kluegel again streaked down the left flank from her outside back position and played a cross to the far post. Substitute Laura Schott got her head on the ball, but it skimmed off her brow and just wide right of the net. One minute later, Welsh tested Brenzen with a drive from distance that was easily saved.
"We definitely picked up our game in the second half," said Mary-Frances Monroe, who captained the USA for the first time and played well despite suffering from an abscessed tooth all week. "We were far more effective in our attacking and created some good chances to score. If we want to beat a team like Italy, which is one of the best in Europe, we must finish our chances."
Schott, who earned her first cap when she came on for Joanna Lohman in the second half, made a difference on the U.S. front line, possessing the ball and slipping several dangerous passes to her fellow strikers. Forward Stephanie Rigamat put in some inspired running in the second half, and almost broke through the defense several times on her own, but had to leave the game in stoppage time when she took a hard knock to the head after colliding with an Italian defender.
Eight U.S. players earned their first caps for the full national team as Marquand, Lohman, Marcie Ward and Devvyn Hawkins started, while 17-year-old Lori Chalupny, 18-year-old Sara Randolph and Schott came on as subs. Hawkins added some vital ball winning for the USA as she went the entire 90 minutes while the skillful Chalupny impressed in her debut, playing tough defense in the middle of the field. Randolph also played strong defense at outside right back after replacing Marquand in the 67th minute. Sixteen-year-old Kristin Weiss replaced Rigamat to earn her first cap, but barely had the chance to break a sweat before the final whistle blew.
In the 76th minute, Solo came up with a huge save after Guarino's ripped shot off a corner kick was flying towards to the left corner. Solo stretched to her right and palmed the shot away before the U.S. defense cleared. In the 80th minute, a driven 30-yard free-kick by Tatiana Zorri hit the top of the crossbar, bounced up in the air, and hit the crossbar again, before falling out of bounds as an Italian forward plowed Kraus into the back of the net.
Solo made six saves for the USA and caught several tough balls in traffic, but her intimidating presence also played a part in forcing Italy to misfire on several close chances.
Italy, which out-shot the USA 13-6 for the match, but only 7-6 in the second half, finally broke through just three minutes from time. Tagliacarne collected the ball with her back to the goal at the top of the penalty area, then spun and laced a blistering volley into the roof of the net. Solo had no chance as the ball hit the upper right corner.
"We were playing against women with a team that is obviously very young," added Heinrichs. "There were physical differences and psychological differences between the two teams. International maturation doesn't always correspond with age, but while they are athletic, we have some very young players out there. I was very pleased with the second half. The game was great preparation for the Algarve Cup because Italy was as strong as any of the teams we will face in the first round of the tournament."
The USA had one final chance to tie the game, but a header from Monroe in stoppage time bounced harmlessly to Brenzan.
The USA will bus to Rome tomorrow morning for a flight to Lisbon, Portugal and then catch a flight to Faro in the Algarve region of the country. The USA begins the eight-team Algarve Cup on March 11 vs. Canada, then faces Portugal on March 13 and Sweden on March 15. The placement matches are on March 17.
2001 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. Italy|
|Venue:||Centro d'Italia Stadium (Rieti, Italy|
|Date:||March 7, 2001 - Kickoff 3 p.m. (Local)|
|Weather:||65 degrees (Cool, cloudy)|
ITA - Silvia Tagliacarne (n/a), 87.
USA - 18-Hope Solo, 5-Ally Marquand (Sara Randolph, 67th), 4-Katherine Reddick, 3-Anna Kraus, 2-Jena Kluegel, 15-Devvyn Hawkins, 10-Joanna Lohman (9-Laura Schott, 46th), 14-Marcie Ward (13-Lori Chalupny, 46th), 12-Christie Welsh (Alyssa Ramsey, 72nd), 11-Mary-Frances Monroe, 20-Stephanie Rigamat (Kristin Weiss, 90th).
ITA - 1- Giorgia Brenzan, 3-Daniela Tavalazzi, 5-Manuela Tesse, 6-Adele Frollani, 2-Damiana Deiana, 7-Anna Duo (17-Silvia Tagliacarne, 72nd), 8-Piera Maglio, 4-Maina Pellizzer (15-Guilia Perelli, 55th), 10-Tatiana Zorri, 9-Patrizia Panico, 11-Rita Guarino.