“Italy is going to be favored,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “The pressure will be on them, and we want to go out there and show that we can play with them and get a good result. Any time you get a chance to play Italy or another top team like the ones we will be facing is great. This is how you challenge yourself, and it’s what you measure yourself against. These are the best teams in the world and we want to see how we rate against them. It’s a good challenge for our team.”
The U.S. is in the toughest group as after playing the Azzurri, the Americans face South American champion Brazil on Thursday and African champion Egypt on Sunday.
“We have a tough group, we know that, but we are so excited about facing the defending World Cup champions Italy in the first game,” Bob Bradley said. “The opportunity to be here in South Africa the year before the World Cup, to experience the passion of the people here for the game, is something very special.”
“This is the most important match,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who quit after the World Cup, then replaced Roberto Donadoni following last year’s European Championship. “We’ve got to beat the United States because if the first game goes well, then so will the following games. Whereas if it goes badly, it will be tougher for us to recover.”
This the first game between these two countries since that 2006 World Cup game in Kaiserslautern when Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi bloodied the face of U.S. forward Brian McBride with his elbow. De Rossi drew a four-game ban, ruling him out for most of the World Cup. The intensely physical game ended with only 19 men on the field—10 for Italy, nine for the United States.
“That match was a very memorable match to be a part of. I think all the players and people in the stadium will never forget it,” U.S. forward Landon Donovan said. “This will be a different game, but Italy is a team we know well. There won’t be any surprises.”
To say it would be a major shock for the U.S. to qualify from this group will be an understatement. However, it will be interesting to see how the U.S. back-four and midfield copes against the step up in competition. If we are to get out of the group stages in South Africa next summer, the U.S. needs to learn how to play three really good games in a row against three good opponents.