By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Nov 19, 2018) US Soccer Players – It's possible to calculate the USMNT's progress and success through a series of games and milestones tied to various nations around the world. The rivalry with Mexico has defined the US’s growth and success over the past two decades. Games against others such as England, Colombia, and Costa Rica have also come to define the program over the years.
Another opponent that has helped measure the success of the US National Team over the past 30 years has been Italy. The country has played a series of very meaningful matches against the Americans dating back to the 1990 World Cup it hosted. The Italians finished third at that tournament.
Although the US and Italy have met just 11 times since 1934 – with the US amassing a 1-7-3 record against the Americans – seven of those encounters have come in competitive matches at either the World Cup, Olympics (when those games counted as senior internationals), Confederations Cup, or US Cup. The series began with a 7-1 US defeat in Rome at the start of Italy’s run to lift the 1934 FIFA World Cup on home soil. The US has also scored just five times all-time against Italy, a country known for its legendary goalkeepers and tough defending.
The all-time series between these two countries usually packs lots of emotion. The United States has typically used games against Italy as a way to test its progress and where it’s going as a program. As for Tuesday’s game at Luminus Arena in Genk, Belgium, the US and Italy are both in a rebuilding phase. Both nations hold the dubious distinction of not qualifying for the World Cup last summer. For the Italians, it was the first time since 1958 that it had failed to reach the finals.
Here are five games between the Americans and Italy, played over the past four decades, which have shown the growth and progress of the US National Team.
USA 0, Italy 0 (1984 friendly)
Before 31,210 fans at Giants Stadium, the Americans were able to pull off a scoreless draw in this friendly played at the home of the New York Cosmos. The Italians, the defending World Cup champions at the time after lifting the trophy two years earlier, featured six members of that team in its starting lineup. Among them was midfielder Marco Tardelli, who wore the captain’s armband for that friendly, and defender Gaetano Scirea.
The Americans, coached by Alkis Panagoulias, were players from the NASL and the MISL. Most notably, the team featured midfielder Hugo Perez and striker Angelo Di Bernardo. In goal for the US the evening of May 30 was goalkeeper David Brcic, then a member of the Cosmos. The Italian offense tried in every way possible to get on the scoreboard, but strong defending from the US and the solid performance by Brcic allowed the game to end in a scoreless draw.
One interesting footnote to that game: Current Italy manager Roberto Mancini, just 19 at the time, caught heat from then-coach Enzo Bearzot. Several players from the team, who were staying in Manhattan, broke curfew after the game and got back at 6am. Mancini and his teammates went to Studio 54 and partied the night away. Mancini recalled in a series of recent interviews that Bearzot told him he would no longer call him to the National Team as a result of staying out late. It was a promise Bearzot would ultimately keep.
Italy 1, USA 0 (1990 World Cup)
Another close game took place on June 14 at a sold-out Olympic Stadium in Rome. Before that intimidating crowd of nearly 74,000 Italian fans, the Americans, playing in their first World Cup in 40 years, put in a respectable showing. A potential lopsided disaster would conclude just 1-0 for Italy.
The Azzurri scored the game’s only goal after just 11 minutes via a great give-and-go play in the box that AS Roma midfielder Giuseppe Giannini slammed home. The goal looked like the first of many. That was something goalkeeper Tony Meola and the US defense were desperately trying to avoid after losing the tournament opener 5-1 to Czechoslovakia just four days earlier in Florence. The Americans, with John Harkes and Tab Ramos in the lineup, were at the start of an upward trajectory for the US National Team program.
A missed penalty kick in the first half by Gianluca Vialli, which slammed against the base of the post, kept the score close. With 15 minutes left in the match, the Americans almost equalized. Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga's legs saved Peter Vermes’s shot from just six yards out. With that, a chance at making history evaporated. The Italians may have featured a star-studded roster with Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, and Roberto Baggio, but the US left the stadium that night with their heads held high.
USA 1, Italy 1 (US Cup ‘92)
The Americans got one over on the Italians on June 6 at Soldier Field in Chicago in the form of a 1-1 draw. The inaugural US Cup, a round-robin tournament that also featured Portugal and Ireland, was to give Bora Milutinovic’s team much-needed international experience.
Italy took the lead early when Baggio scored in the second minute to the delight of the many Italians among the 27,000 in attendance that afternoon. The Americans responded with a goal of their own when Harkes tallied his second goal of the tournament in the 23rd minute with a powerful 13-yard shot that got past Luca Marchegiani. The back-and-forth game featured no more goals and the draw became a victory for the young US squad.
The tournament, a success for the US given the outcome, allowed Milutinovic to field his European-based players. Among the call-ups had been two notable 1990 World Cup veterans: Harkes, who played with Sheffield Wednesday in England’s top flight, and Ramos, a member of Spanish second-division club Figueres. In addition, the team featured naturalized players such as Thomas Dooley, who was born in Germany, and Roy Wegerle, a native of South Africa.
USA 1, Italy 1 (2006 World Cup)
Sixteen years after the sides had played in the first round at the 1990 World Cup, Germany 2006 again featured the US and Italy in an opening-round match. Like at US Cup ’92, the game ended 1-1 on June 17 in Kaiserslautern.
The Italians took the lead through Alberto Gilardino in the 22nd minute. It would only last five minutes. A Christian Zaccardo own-goal leveled the score after a failed clearance saw the ball get past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. As the half wore on, the game grew in its intensity. Danielle De Rossi’s elbow on Brian McBride earned him red. McBride’s bloodied face gave the USMNT one of its most iconic images. The red cards didn’t end there. Pablo Mastroeni also saw red after a two-footed tackle on Andrea Pirlo gave referee Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay little choice.
The second-half produced another red card and a gutsy US performance. Eddie Pope’s slide tackle on Gilardino just two minutes into the half earned him a second yellow of the night and the Americans were down to just nine men. The US created several chances, but it was Keller’s save near the end on Alessandro Del Piero that preserved the draw. Italy would go on to win its fourth World Cup that summer.
USA 1, Italy 0 (2012 friendly)
The only time the United States defeated Italy took place the last time the sides met six years ago. The victory in Genoa on February 29 remains one of the best of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 55th minute snapped a 10-game losing streak against the Italians.
The Americans only put two shots on goal all evening. It was the Italians who stepped up their game after Dempsey’s goal, but goalkeeper Tim Howard and the US backline kept Italy at bay. The frustrated Italians saw the offside flag nine times.
“We are really pleased with the game and with the result,” Klinsmann, who had played in Italy with Inter Milan and Sampdoria, told reporters after the match. “If you beat Italy on its own soil, then that means a lot. For us, the goal was to come here to learn. The challenge that this game gave us, especially on the tactical side – to read the game ahead, to think one step ahead – for our players, it was big.”
The USMNT faces its last test of 2018 against the Italians. Another drama-filled game between two nations that rarely disappoint when on the field together isn't out of the question.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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Photo by John Todd - ISIPhotos.com