With third-ranked Sweden already perched atop Group G and favored to win the group with ease, Italy had virtually no room for error against Argentina today. Anything short of a victory would have stacked the already long odds even further against the Azzure—a point not lost on the women in blue, who came out firing on all cylinders against Argentina.
Looking to press the issue, Italy manager Milena Bertolini went with an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation this evening (2 a.m. Eastern time) in Auckland. With Valentina Giacinti leading the line and supported by Ariana Caruso, Barbara Bonansea, and Manuela Giugliano, among others, Italy wasn't leaving anything to chance.
With two early corners for the Azzurre, one of which nearly forced an own goal in the 5th minute, Italy was poised to dominate this match. A prospect that nearly came true in the 15th minute when Caruso settled a ball at the edge of the box before turning, firing, and planting the ball in the upper right-hand corner of the goal.
However, she was judged offside, and the goal was disallowed, robbing Caruso's moment of glory before she even had a chance to crack a smile. But it wouldn't be the last time Italy ran afoul of the offside rule, as Giacinti's 42nd-minute strike was chalked off as Roma's number nine made her initial run in haste. However, there were no doubts about this call, as Giacinti's nonplussed reaction suggested.
Despite the disallowed goals, this was a relatively inert first half, as the two nations combined for only six shots on goal, setting up a nervy second half. Argentina would make some noise early in the second half, forcing Azzurre keeper Francesca Durante into a miraculous dead ball save in the 49th minute.
With the match winding down and the chances few and far between, this had all the making of a second-half biscotto. With Sweden toppling South Africa yesterday, sharing the spoils would have been the sensible albeit underwhelming result for both sides. While Manuela Giugliano nearly brought the house down with an almost perfectly struck free kick, Juventus stalwart Cristiana Girelli would have the last laugh, burying an 87th-minute header in the back of the net, giving the Azzurre three points and a share of the Group G lead.
Italy runs it back on Saturday when they face Sweden. An upset isn't out of the question, but even a draw would put the Azzurre in the driver's seat for a spot in the knockout round, depending on the results of Argentina vs. South Africa.