KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - The Socceroos were tough on Italy. The referee was tougher on Australia.
Another questionable call in this World Cup showed Italy the way to the quarterfinal Monday, giving the Italians a penalty kick that Francesco Totti converted for the 1-0 win as time expired.
Moments earlier, Italy’s Fabio Grosso was dribbling a few strides from the goalmouth when Lucas Neill slid in front of him. The Italian cut in Neill’s direction and tried to leap clear, but tripped over the defender’s back.
To the amazement of the Socceroos, Spanish referee Luis Medina immediately ruled it a penalty with 12 seconds remaining in extra time.
Totti, a second-half substitute, sent his penalty kick high and to the right of goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who guessed correctly but couldn’t stretch far enough to stop it. With no time left to restart, the Italians started celebrating.
“We suffered but we gave them no chances,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi, whose team plays Friday in the quarterfinals against Ukraine. “This is an incredible joy.”
There was no joy for the Socceroos, whose howls of protest over the call gave way to head-shaking and resignment.
“I just can’t believe it, mate,” Australian forward Tim Cahill said. “We play all our lives to be honest on the pitch and to work hard and I suppose these days you fall over on the pitch and get a penalty, free kick whatever. It’s disappointing.
“I’m furious. It’s unbelievable. The luck we’ve had with refereeing decisions this World Cup. Everything’s been against us.”
About the only people in the Fritz-Walter-Stadion who thought Grosso was fouled were the Italians — and Medina.
With a match-fixing scandal rumbling along back home, only Italy could come up with this scenario — though there was no suggestion of any skullduggery here. Only more suggestions of a bad decision by the referee.
“It’s cruel, very cruel,” Australian striker Mark Viduka said. “This was a game where we really dominated. We had the feeling that if the game went into extra time we were going to beat them.”
It was another match filled with yellow cards and one ejection — a growing trend at this World Cup. The red card against Marco Materazzi was the 24th in this tournament, already a record with 11 matches left.
The ejection gave the Australians a man advantage for the last 40 minutes of the game, but Australia couldn’t capitalize.
Not that Lippi seemed concerned for Italy.
“I never feared being eliminated,” Lippi said. “We still had the extra time, the penalties. We had had scoring chances, four or five, and even when we were down to ten players, we remained well organized. Italy has shown a great heart.”
It was the Australians who showed that a team ranked just 42nd in the world — in just its second World Cup, its first since 1974 — could compete with traditional soccer powers. In Germany, the Australians scored their first World Cup goals (five total), their first victory (3-1 over Japan) and riveted a nation that stayed up late and partied later when the Socceroos played.
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