Italy scores two in extra time against Germany
DORTMUND, Germany (AP) – With scandal tearing apart the national sport back home, Italy kept plowing through soccer’s premier event Tuesday with a last-minute win just when it seemed a penalty shootout was inevitable.
Fabio Grosso twisted a left-footed shot into the far side of the net with one minute of extra time remaining, then Alessandro Del Piero clinched the 2-0 win in injury time with a counterattacking goal as Germany pressed desperately to equalize.
“We deserved it,” Grosso said. “We have a great group. We’ve beaten some very good teams. Now we’re going to celebrate reaching the final with all our well-wishers.”
The swiftness of the goals was stunning – three-time champion Germany had pressured for the game’s last hour and slowly stretched the tight Italian defence. But Italy, which has allowed only an own-goal in six games at this year’s tournament, held off the hosts and attacked from the start of extra time.
Now the Italians head to Berlin for Sunday’s final in search of a fourth trophy of their own. They’ll play the winner of Wednesday’s Portugal-France match in their sixth World Cup final.
“I can honestly say Italy deserved to win,” Italy coach Marcelo Lippi said. “We controlled the play more than Germany did and, in the end, we got these two great goals, which allowed us to avoid the roulette of a penalty shootout.”
In handing the Germans their first loss in 15 games at Dortmund, the Azzurri also remained undefeated in five World Cup meetings with Germany – this was their third win to go with two draws.
The deciding goal seemed to come out of nowhere.
Italy’s reserves rushed onto the field after Grosso took a brilliant tap pass from Andrea Pirlo in the box and curled his shot beyond the leaping reach of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and just inside the post.
With the hosts pushing forward in desperation, the Italians struck again on a two-on-one break. Del Piero finished with a right-footed blast into the top of the net just before the whistle sounded.
The Italians, who last won the World Cup in 1982, mobbed each other and rolled around on the field as their fans in a sliver of the stadium jumped in delight, waving the green, white and red flags in ecstasy.
“We have beaten a very strong team,” Del Piero said. “They could have scored first on a couple of occasions. But we’ve done it. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
What the Italians have faced off the field could easily have sapped them of their resolve. Their domestic league match-fixing scandal reached new heights Tuesday when a prosecutor urged the demotion of four Serie A teams for which many of Italy’s players star. Every Italian team member plays at home – and 13 of the 23 play for the teams under investigation.
While the Italians celebrated, the Germans collapsed in dismay.
“It’s bitter to lose like that,” Germany defender Philipp Lahm said. “We had set ourselves the target of reaching the semifinals, but once you’ve reached that you want to go all the way.”
The home crowd lingered to cheer their players, who were supposed to be too young and inexperienced to challenge for this trophy. Instead, coach Juergen Klinsmann’s entertaining squad performed superbly, and the crowd sang to them and chanted their names and “Deutschland, Deutschland” after the match.
Captain Michael Ballack and several others cried as they left the field, defeated, but unashamed.
“It was an even game,” Germany striker Miroslav Klose said. “Compliments to the Italians, they took advantage of their fast breaks. We can be proud of our young team.”
Italy is unbeaten in 24 games as it heads to its first World Cup title game since losing to Brazil in 1994.
Germany will play in the third-place game Saturday in Stuttgart.
“The boys are sitting there and have a bitter pill to swallow,” said Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup played in Italy. “It hurts terribly.”
Klinsmann’s contract with Germany runs out at the end of the tournament and he has been vague about his future. There have been reports that the U.S. Soccer Federation has approached him to become coach of the United States.
Klinsmann chose to continue living in California until shortly before the World Cup and he won’t be resettling in Germany despite such calls from many German soccer officials.
“I really hope that Klinsmann will continue. He left a big influence on this team, the players trust him,” said Franz Beckenbauer, the president of the organizing committee who won the title as player in 1974 at home and as coach in 1990. “They should mature until the European championship in two years.”
Italy scores two in extra time against Germany