As we mentioned in the mini-preview ahead of this match, if the Women's World Cup went according to plan, Italy would have been on the outside looking in as they were no match for the more experienced and more heralded Brazilian and Australian sides, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum...Italy looked good, damn good. While they didn't manage to escape Group C unblemished, they topped the group thanks to a stellar defensive record, conceding only two goals (both via penalty) in group play, while forcing seven of their own thanks to explosive performances from Barbara Bonansea, Cristiana Girelli and Aurora Galli.
With passage to the knockout stages already guaranteed, Italy was (in a sense) playing for pride today against Brazil. Sure, there was some seeding ramifications at stake, but more than anything this was a chance for the Azzurre to prove they belonged with the true global powers, and thanks to their gritty performance against Brazil today they did just that.
Keeping one eye on form and another on rest and/or yellow cards, Milena Bertolini did some small tinkering to her lineup today, making two personnel changes (Valentina Giacinti and Valentina Bergamaschi) while swapping roles for two others (Aurora Galli and Valentina Cernoia swapped sides), and considering how tightly contested this match was, it was the right call; Italy proved they could hang, no one got hurt, no got two yellows and all their key players got significant minutes.
Having only seen the second half in totality, you'll have to forgive the scattered nature of this review, but his match really came down to one solitary moment.
With the match careening towards a well-earned scoreless draw and Brazilian forward Debinha and Elena Linari racing in lockstep towards the ball, the referee awarded a penalty on what not only looked like a soft call but on contact that was actually initiated by Debinha. Marta would covert from the spot, sending Laura Giuliani in the opposite direction, passing former Germany striker Miroslav Klose for the all-time World Cup lead. Full marks to Marta, she's a legend, but that was a bogus call if I've ever seen one.
Nevertheless, Italy didn't wilt under that pressure, keeping their cool and snuffing out whatever subsequent attacks Brazil mounted. We just have to hope that his loss doesn't ruin the good will and momentum they've been building over the past ten days, because they have been sensational—strangling opposing attacks and creating chances at the will.
Italy will play their TBD opponent on June 25th in Montpelier, and we'll have full coverage of the match including previews, game threads, reviews and highlights.
Outside of the United States and France, I'm not sure any team in this tournament has looked as well rounded and as dangerous as Italy. They have a real chance at continuing this dark-horse run. Do not miss this next match.