Last-gasp penalty breaks Australian hearts
A penalty to substitute Francesco Totti with the last kick of the game saw Italy end Australia's World Cup dream in controversial circumstances with a 1-0 win in Kaiserslautern this morning.
Totti's penalty came after Lucas Neill was judged to have brought down Fabio Grosso in the final minute of stoppage time.
The decision sparked outrage among Socceroos fans after TV replays appeared to show Grosso tumbling over Neill's challenge with minimal contact from the Australian.
The players also hit out, with Tim Cahill saying he was "furious" over the decision.
It was a cruel way for the Australians to lose after they had dominated both possession and open play.
And it was particularly hard on Neill, who had a colossal game and tournament at the heart of the Australian defence.
"I think it was a questionable penalty, but the referee gave it. He fell, it was just a normal challenge," departing Australia coach Guus Hiddink said.
"We got a very disputed penalty and that's it, you can dream about the extra 30 minutes, but the fact is that we were caught on the penalty. The replays show without any doubt that it was not a penalty."
"[But] at the end you must make of the attractive football the result.... [and] I think that is the difference between the two teams."
Cahill said he could not believe the result.
"It's a feeling of disbelief. We're trying to break them down and then they get a lucky break, he falls over in the box and gets a penalty," he said.
"I think we dominated the match for many parts and with an extra player it made it easier for us but it's a really bad way to go out," Australian captain Mark Viduka said.
"We're obviously happy we've got this far but so disappointing to go out in the fashion we did."
The Italians went a man down in the 50th minute when Marco Materazzi was given a straight red card for a late challenge on Marco Bresciano, who was through on goal.
Italian coach Marcello Lippi responded by replacing his most dangerous forward Luca Toni with defender Andrea Varzagli.
With Toni went Italy's ambitions. The aim seemed to be to hold on and try to hit Australia on the break.
The plan looked like backfiring as the Australians increasingly dominated.
But a long ball and a weaving run by full-back Grosso led to the foul being given against Neill.
Totti stepped up to smash the ball high past Mark Schwarzer and break Australian hearts.
The Australians themselves could have had a penalty in the final minutes when the ball struck a defender on the hand after substitute John Aloisi had attempted an overhead kick.
Australia suffered a massive blow before the match when star striker Harry Kewell was ruled out with a leg injury.
With Brett Emerton suspended that meant two new faces in midfield. Marco Bresciano was handed Kewell's creative role and Luke Wilkshire took over as the workhorse in midfield, with Jason Culina slotting into Emerton's position wide on the right.
Lippi left Totti on the bench but started with three strikers; Toni, Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Del Piero.
Even when they went a man up the Socceroos stuck to their game plan, playing the ball around trying to create openings.
Slowly they began to appear. Scott Chipperfield, Cahill, Viduka and Bresciano all had chances but a combination of below-par finishing and good goalkeeping by Gianluigi Buffon kept Australia out.
With the game heading for extra time the Socceroos' patience looked like it might be rewarded.
The Italians, with all three substitutions made, were wilting in the heat. The Australians in contrast looked fresh and had made just one change.
But it wasn't to be.
The match was Hiddink's last in charge of the Socceroos, with the Dutch master tactician now moving on to coach the Russian national side.
The win sent Italy into a quarter-final showing against the winner of the Switzerland-Ukraine game later this morning.
source: ABC/Wires (http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems)