Italy beat Ghana 2-0 in 'difficult' first match

Italy’s “danger man” came through for the Azzurri. Andrea Pirlo, a player identified by Ghana as someone it needed to stop, scored in the 40th minute on Monday, and Vincenzo Iaquinta added a goal in the 83rd to give Italy a 2-0 win over Ghana in Group E at the World Cup.

“I’m happy with this. The first match is always difficult,” Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.

Ghana missed a number of scoring chances and showed itself worthy of playing in its first World Cup.

“I think they deserved to win the match.
They scored two goals and we missed some chances,” Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic said. “We lost one match and now we’ll try to win the next.”

The win may have been costly for Italy. Playmaker Francesco Totti exited the game after taking a hit on his surgically repaired left leg in the second half. His status for Saturday’s game with the United States is uncertain.

Totti didn’t seem too concerned.

“I took a hit below the knee,” he said. “I’m happy with how I played tonight. The more I play, the better my condition gets.”

The Azzurri also picked up three yellow cards.

Still, Italy stretched its unbeaten streak to 19 games and moved into a tie with the Czech Republic atop the group standings. The Czechs beat the United States 3-0 earlier on Monday.

Italy has not lost since falling to Slovenia in October 2004, compiling 11 wins and eight draws since then.

The win also showed the Azzurri have not lost their focus amid the most widespread scandal in Italian soccer history. Prosecutors in four Italian cities are investigating allegations of match-fixing, referee arrangements and illegal betting.

Lippi was not sure whether to start Totti, who had surgery in February, until the day before the match, leaving open a number of lineup possibilities. Ghana captain Stephen Appiah, who played for several years in the Italian league, told his teammates not to worry about Totti or whoever might have replaced him.

“Andrea Pirlo, he’s the danger man,” Appiah said a day before the game.

With both teams threatening often but failing to capitalise, Italy changed its tactics slightly on its 10th corner kick.

Instead of directing the ball in front of the goal, Totti slipped a short pass back to Pirlo beyond the corner of the area and the AC Milan midfielder sent in a low, angled shot that found its way into the net around a crowd of players. It was Pirlo’s fifth goal in his 23rd appearance for Italy.

Totti exited in the 55th after sticking his left leg in for a tackle on John Painstil.

After writhing in pain for a few seconds and grasping his leg, Totti was eventually helped up by team physician Enrico Castellacci. Lippi immediately replaced him with Mauro Camoranesi.

Iaquinta replaced Gilardino in the 64th. His goal was the product of a defensive error by Samuel Kuffour, after which the Udinese forward sailed in all alone for a tap in.

“To score in your first World Cup match is such an emotional event,” Iaquinta said. “I couldn’t believe the opportunity that Kuffour presented me with.”

The game had a fast pace from the start and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi picked up a yellow card for a foul on Michael Essien in the 10th.

Two minutes later, Italy almost went ahead when a cross from Simone Perrotta went out of Luca Toni’s reach with Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingston out of position. Gilardino got to the ball and his shot from a difficult angle bounced off Kingston and ricocheted out off the post.

In the 27th, Toni’s long shot hit the crossbar. Ghana then produced a series of chances. Matthew Amoah shot wide a minute later and Asamoah Gyan’s attempt went beyond outstretched Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in the 29th.

Two Italy defenders respectfully gave Essien some space in the 31st, but he too shot wide.

Totti blasted a 40m free kick that Kingston did well to tip over the bar in the 33rd.

Ghana opened the second half on the attack and Buffon had to punch away a long shot by Essien in the 54th.

Camoranesi picked up a yellow card for a hard tackle on Muntari in the 62nd as the game turned physical. Gyan was also shown yellow in the 65th, and Iaquinta was carded for scuffling with John Mensah in the 88th. - Sapa-AP

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