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After winning their opening Confederations Cup match against the USA, World Champions Italy take on African Champions Egypt hoping to seal qualification to the semi-finals, with the Pharaohs still reeling from their last-minute defeat to Brazil...

Kick-off: Thursday 18 June 2009, 20:30 CET,
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg

Italy Out To Secure Qualification Before Brazil Match


After winning their opening Confederations Cup match against the United States 3-1, Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri will be looking for another three points against Egypt to ensure their passage to the semi-finals before the last group match against Brazil. However, it will certainly not be easy against the African champions, who showed all their potential in the 4-3 defeat to the Selecao in their first match, which they only lost because of a last-gasp penalty.

Against the US, Italy continued their string of unimpressive recent performances, despite the final result. In the first half, they almost never threatened, while USA’s strikers found themselves alone in front of Gianluigi Buffon on more than one occasion. On the half-hour mark, midfielder Ricardo Clark was harshly sent off for a foul on Gennaro Gattuso, but there was little sign of improvement by the World Champions after that. The Americans deservedly took the lead just before half-time when defender Giorgio Chiellini gave away a penalty which was converted by Landon Donovan.

Lippi did not make any changes during half time, but ten minutes into the second half he took off Gattuso for the US-born Giuseppe Rossi, who equalised with a screamer from outside the area a minute after coming on. His entrance, along with that of fellow youngster Riccardo Montolivo, played a major role in Italy’s much-improved second half performance. More goals seemed inevitable, as the Azzurri finally managed to capitalise on their numerical advantage. Daniele De Rossi put them in front with another shot from distance with about twenty minutes to go, and Rossi got his brace with an injury-time strike to make it 3-1.

This dramatic turnaround after Lippi inserted more youth into the team, and possibly also changed the system from an ungainly 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2, showed that the coach’s current approach just isn’t working. Although the coach has said repeatedly that his ‘old players’, as he referred to them himself, are still hungry for glory after the World Cup victory three years ago, they are simply not showing it at the moment, barring a few exceptions like full back Fabio Grosso, De Rossi, and Andrea Pirlo, their only world-class creative midfielder.

Most Azzurri fans would agree that sticking more or less with the formation of the second half against the United States is the way to go from now on, but we will have to wait and see what Lippi decides to do for the second match against Egypt, which will undoubtedly be a much sterner test.

Egypt Hoping Result Goes Their Way This Time

A neutral football fan could not help but feel sorry for Egypt after their 4-3 defeat to Brazil last Monday. Throughout the match they played attractive attacking football, and rarely gave the Selecao space to play, in fact all of Brazil’s goals after Kaka’s early opener came from set pieces. Their defending in those situations was pretty much their only weakness in that match, and it was a weakness Carlos Dunga’s men exploited to the fullest.

Some poor defending early on allowed new Real Madrid star Kaka to open the scoring after just five minutes, but the talented Mohamed Zidan headed home the equaliser just four minutes later. Headers by Luis Fabiano and Juan, from a free-kick and corner, respectively, brought the score up to 3-1 for Brazil before the half-time break, but early in the second half two goals inside a minute from Mohamed Shawky and Zidan made it 3-3. A contested penalty in the 90th minute, given only after the fourth official probably watched a video replay which evidenced a handball on the goal-line from a Brazil attack, allowed the five-time World Champions to win after all.

Considering Egypt’s achievements over the past few years, it was not all that surprising that they managed to play on the same level as a probably under-motivated Brazil side. They have won the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, beating strong sides like Ivory Coast and Cameroon in the finals. Although they have always been one of Africa’s prominent national teams, Egypt have only appeared at two World Cups in their history, in 1934 and 1990.

They’ve also made a dodgy start in their first two games of the third round of Africa’s complex qualification schedule. A home draw against Zambia and an away defeat to Algeria was surely not what they were hoping for, but with four more games left to play, anything can still happen for the Pharaohs.

An impressive display at this tournament would certainly give them a lot of confidence heading into their next qualifiers. They have been drawn in a very difficult group, but after their performance against Brazil, they’ll certainly fancy their chances of getting a result against a shaky Italian team, and if they can do that it would leave them with a very good chance of qualifying for the semi-finals.


FORM GUIDE

Egypt

15/06 (Confederations Cup): Brazil-Egypt 4-3
07/06 (World Cup Qualifier): Algeria-Egypt 3-1
30/05 (Friendly): Oman-Egypt 0-1
29/03 (World Cup Qualifier): Egypt-Zambia 1-1
11/02 (Friendly): Egypt-Gambia 2-2

Italy

15/06 (Confederations Cup): USA-Italy 1-3
10/06 (Friendly): Italy-New Zealand 4-3
06/06 (Friendly): Italy-Northern Ireland 3-0
01/04 (World Cup Qualifier): Italy-Republic of Ireland 1-1
28/03 (World Cup Qualifier): Montenegro-Italy 0-2


TEAM NEWS

Egypt

No injury problems for coach Hassan Shehata, but Ahmed Al Muhamadi is suspended after his sending off against Brazil.

Possible formation (4-5-1): El Hadari; H. Said, Gomaa, I. Said, Moawad; Shawky, Hassan, Fathi, Rabou, Treika; Zidan.

Italy

According to the Italian media, captain Fabio Cannavaro could be back in the starting line-up.

Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Grosso; Gattuso, Pirlo, De Rossi; Rossi; Gilardino, Iaquinta.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mohamed Zidan (Egypt)

Having played in the Bundesliga for four years, the 27-year-old striker has gained invaluable international experience and he is probably the best overall player in Egypt’s squad. He showed all his class in the match against Brazil, scoring a brace with a header and a clinical finish. If he keeps impressing in his next games in this tournament, he might earn a move to a bigger club than current employers Borussia Dortmund.

Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

His entrance in the second half against the USA completely revitalised Italy. He scored a brilliant and vital equaliser just a minute after coming on, and was involved in many dangerous Azzurri moves. Much has been made of his dual American and Italian nationality, having been born in the US, but considering where the Italian and American national football teams stand on the international stage, it’s not hard to understand why the 22-year-old snubbed Team USA for the four-time World Champions. One hopes Lippi will reward his performance in the Azzurri’s opening match with a starting place in this one.


PREDICTION

Italy rarely get themselves out of trouble before the decisive group game, and Egypt will want to continue impressing, so a draw could be on the cards.

Egypt-Italy 1-1


Danilo Pochini, Goal.com

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