Friday, June 30, 2006

Both teams bring drama to the next match. Ukraine is the only underdog left in the tournament, their dream is the toughest. Italy is heavily favored but brings a shocking mental baggage to the pitch. The league in Italy is under investigation. Fixed games and betting scandals are keywords in the Italian story, and thirteen players on the field for Italy today are affiliated with accused clubs.
The dive that led to the penalty, and to the victory of Italy over Australia in the second round, raised a lot of criticism. All pressure is on Italy.
Italy starts slow and Ukraine tries for an early goal. The Italian defense sets the boundaries early, deregulating the Ukrainian attack.
Italy finds more space in the Ukrainian defense and a striker can run the ball freely to and through the penalty box, no defender challenges him. The shot is two feet wide, this time. In the fifth minute, an Italian striker runs the ball from the halfway line to the edge of the penalty box. Without stopping and spilling the momentum, he strikes the ball with his feet a final time. The keeper of Ukraine dives and reaches the ball, but he can only deflect it in the back of the net.


The Italian fans spring alive. The love for the cup forgets all disputes.
The Italians on the field improve their game and suck Ukraine in the defensive battle.
"Ukraine looking, nowhere to go," says the commentator while Ukraine circles the ball in the back.
Italy chases the possession, frustrating Ukraine.
The game is on a low and the television fills in on the suicide attempt of an Italian player. He fell or jumped of the Juventus headquarters building.
The second half Italy shows more creativity at the ball. In the forty-eight minute, a defender knees a high cross in front of the goal next to the post, the far post.
"Could have been the second own goal of Italy for the tournament," says the commentator.
Ukraine manages to break through and break the Italia defense, heading the ball of the post. The Italian keeper dives his head onto the post, making sure he would cover the gap. Nothing is too much in the world cup, for flag and anthem.
Italy is in command, however Ukraine breaks the Italian defense in the fifty-seventh minute. A striker turns out of the offside trap and faces only the keeper. The Italian goalie braces, and he blocks the shot. A Ukrainian striker picks up the rebound and fires from four meter distance. An Italian defender on the goal line clears the ball, and saves his nation.
Italy counters the same minute. They take a corner short, and pass the ball high to the right post. A teammate fools the Ukrainian keeper and heads the ball into the left corner.


"That is how strange this game can be," shouts the commentator, reflecting on the miracle save from the equalizer by Italy, only seconds ago.
Ukraine chokes under the sudden developments and Italy smells the weakened prey. A striker runs the ball on the left from halfway to the edge of the penalty box. He crosses, and a teammate finishes the job.


Ukraine now knows it fights for their honor. They bravely come forward, and open the game. Opportunities arise on both sides of the pitch. Nevertheless, the score holds. Ukraine goes home, but with pride. Italy can rest the scandal nightmare for the night and live the world cup dream, until Tuesday. Then they play Germany in the semi-final.