If Group A provided a soporific opening to the 2009 Confederations Cup, Group B was the wake up call everyone must have been hoping for.
The first game of the day was an exciting encounter between the champions of South America and Africa which proved to be a lot closer than expected. Brazil, for their part, entered into battle in familiar fashion, passing the ball well in midfield and generally out-muscling the opposition.
In fact so efficient were they that they took the lead after only five minutes thanks to some nifty ball juggling in the area by Kaka who calmly slotted past Egyptian keeper Essam El Hadary to make it 1-0. Yet it was here that Brazil were to learn their lesson for the day – that Egypt are not a team to dismiss easily.
Just four minutes later, Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan was on hand to head in a cross from Mohamed Aboutrika which highlighted Brazil’s defensive frailties no end. But we all know that Brazil play best when on the attack, and so it was proven when a further three minutes later Elano’s free kick found Luis Fabiano in the box who deftly flicked the ball home beyond the reach of El Hadary.
Brazil were back in front 2-1 and they extended their lead eight minutes before the break. Elano executed another perfect set-piece when his corner was headed in from close range by Roma defender Juan.
So far, so predictable perhaps, but Egypt burst out of the blocks at the start of the second half as if they meant business. With 54 minutes on the clock, African Player of the Year Aboutrika showed his ability to pass and move with the best of them when he set up Mohamed Shawky who scored with a fine finish from the edge of the penalty area.
Then, almost straight from the restart, Aboutrika played a through-ball in to FIFA Man of the Match Zidan who only had to slot the ball past Julio Cesar to make it 3-3.
Brazil were reeling from Egypt’s swift fightback but their lack of organisation at the back was entirely the reason why they’d lost their lead for the second time – that, and the fact that Egypt were giving as good as they got offensively.
With the game evenly poised, the defining moment came in the 90th minute when a free kick was volleyed goalwards by Brazilian captain Lucio only for the ball to be cleared off the line. Though referee Howard Webb initially awarded a corner, he later changed his decision to a penalty having been informed that Ahmed Al Muhamadi had used his arm to deliberately block the ball. Al Muhamadi was subsequently sent off and Kaka scored his second from the spot to win the game.
So Brazil pick up the three points from their first game, but it wasn’t a cakewalk for them. Furthermore Egypt’s next opponents, Italy, may now be revaluating Egypt’s chances of winning following their own first game of the competition.
Group B USA 1 Italy 3 Tshwane/Pretoria
Italy also had a rude awakening as they reignited their tetchy relationship with the Americans in Group B. Almost two years ago to the day, both teams played out a feisty World Cup First Round match in which three players were sent off – two of them for the US team.
This time around, tempers weren’t quite so high although the Americans did lose a man again. Just past the half-hour mark, Ricardo Clark petulantly lashed out at Gennaro Gattuso after losing the ball and the referee decided he didn’t want to see any more of that, thank you very much.
It was all rather unfortunate given the great start Bob Bradley’s men had made to the match. They’d been very organised, were strong at the back and had the best of the chances, if truth be known. Italy, wearing their new pale blue shirts and brown shorts, were left frustrated – particularly when the USA were awarded a penalty four minutes before half time.
Curiously, Giorgio Chiellini’s kick at Jozy Altidore and the subsequent holding back that caused him to fall in the box were not deemed serious enough to warrant a red card, but a penalty was awarded. Landon Donovan, the US captain, stepped up to give his side a 1-0 lead which few could argue hadn’t been hard earned.
Going into the second half with a man down, the Americans had it all to do in order to retain their lead. Playing with only Altidore up front, Italy had every chance to find an equaliser, but it didn’t arrive until former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi came on as a 57th-minute substitute.
Only a minute later, Rossi picked up the ball on the edge of the centre circle in the American half, ran straight at goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot from 30 yards out that eluded Tim Howard’s right hand. Italy were back in the game and full of belief once again.
After 72 minutes, Daniele De Rossi (the Italian sent off when both sides played in the 2006 World Cup) scored a second from long range when he shot across the face of goal beyond Howard’s left hand. Now 2-1 up, Italy looked in control but the final nail in the coffin wasn’t banged in until the fourth minute of injury time.
With the game almost over, Andrea Pirlo danced past Jay DeMerit on the wing, reached the by-line and chipped a neat ball into the area for American-born Rossi to half-volley into the back of the net. The game ended 3-1 to Italy but the USA will be rueing the chances Altidore and Michael Bradley had early on which, if finished better, could have earned them at least a point.
That said, Italy showed enough steel to edge it on the night and they now lead Group B ahead of their game against Egypt on Thursday. The USA play Brazil in the day’s early kick-off.