On 12th June, 2006, a goal in each half from Andrea Pirlo and Vicenzo Iaquinta gave Italy a 2-0 victory over a determined Ghana in Hanover.
The three-time World Cup winners were made to work hard for a victory by a Ghana side making their debut in the competition.
Italy produced 13 shots on goal to Ghana’s 4 and hit the crossbar and goalpost with shots.
Ghana dominated possession but when they had the ball they did not seem to know what to do with it. They also gave away posession in crucial areas of the pitch and Italy made them pay for it.
“It was the best soccer of the tournament so far,” said Joseph S. Blatter, the president of the sport’s governing body, FIFA.
The Azzurri looked by far the more incisive team and Marcello Lippi’s men could have won by a bigger advantage had Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingston not stood strong to deny attacking duo Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino on several occasions.
They were also thankful for goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who held firm when Ghana drove on in search of an equaliser before Iaquinta scored Italy’s second.
The game began at a frenetic pace, with both teams determined to impose their play but it was not long before the Azzurri took command.
Captain Fabio Cannavaro had the first chance of the game as he headed over from a Pirlo corner.
Italy could have broken the deadlock in the 11th minute, with Simone Perrotta serving an unmarked Gilardino inside the far post, who struck past Ghana goalkeeper Kingston only to be denied by the post.
Ghana were beginning to take a grip in midfield after Italy’s whirlwind opening.
Alessandro Nesta was forced to make a vital clearance inside his own area from John Pantsil’s deadly cross with Matthew Amoah ready to fire on target.
Midway through the first half, Italy missed a golden chance to go in front after Cristian Zaccardo curled in an inviting cross towards the box which neither Toni nor Gilardino were able to reach.
Toni made amends seconds later, and Gilardino’s pass sliced Ghana’s defence wide open to find the Fiorentina striker, whose effort from the edge of the area was denied by the crossbar.
Ghana finally put together a good move on 30 minutes, with Asamoah Gyan’s right-footed effort fizzing inches wide of Buffon’s near post.
Italy replied with Totti warming the hands of Kingston with a stinging drive which the goalkeeper palmed over for a corner.
Kingston was lucky not to be punished for his failure to clear Totti’s corner, with Cannavaro heading over the crossbar.
Italy’s efforts finally broke the deadlock six minutes before the break, with Totti’s pass finding an unmarked Pirlo, who thumped home a shot from 30 yards towards the far post and there was little Kingston could do to save it.
Italy could have gone into the break with a 2-0 lead had Kingston not palmed away Grosso’s powerful shot on the stroke of half-time.
Ghana looked more lively after the break but it was Italy that continued to look more dangerous.
Kingston did well to anticipate Toni with the striker ready to fire from Simone Perrotta’s beautiful cross from the right.
On 50 minutes, Gilardino wasted a great chance from Totti’s beautiful assist, with the AC Milan forward unable to beat the keeper in a one-on-one.
At the other end, Essien almost punished Italy, with his right-footed volley forcing Buffon to make a spectacular save.
Lippi was forced to make his first substitution on 56 minutes, with Mauro Camoranesi in for Totti, who was hurt following a harsh challenge from a Ghana player.
Totti’s withdrawal saw the Azzurri shift to a 4-4-2 formation.
Substitute Camoranesi was booked two minutes later after an unnecessary challenge on Sulley Muntari.
Shortly after the hour mark, Essien fired off-target as Ghana attempted to find the equaliser.
With Italy looking content to sit deep and hit on the break, Lippi brought on in-form Iaquinta for Gilardino.
Italy could have netted their second shortly after, had Kingston not palmed away Perrotta’s close-range shot from Daniele de Rossi’s assist.
Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic replaced Amoah with Razak Pimpong in the hope that the Black Stars still struggled to break Italy’s organised defence.
With 12 minutes remaining, Ghana players demanded a penalty after Gyan was brought down inside Italy’s area by De Rossi but referee Carlos Simon who was close to the action said to play on.
Shortly after, Essien’s long distance effort went off-target.
Lippi made his last substitution on 80 minutes, with Alessandro del Piero in for Toni.
But it was Iaquinta who made sure to kill the game two minutes later, after intercepting Samuel Kuffour’s pass to his goalkeeper before dribbling past Kingston and firing into the back of the net, much to the joy of the 39,000 Azzurri fans in the AWD Hanover Arena.
The Black Stars, despite a loss to Italy in their debut World Cup game survived in the group by beating both Czech Republic and USA, before losing to Brazil in the round of 16.
Italy on the other hand topped the group and ultimately won the championionship, after beating France on penalties.
Italy: Buffon; Zaccardo, Nesta, Cannavaro, Grosso; Perrotta, Pirlo, De Rossi; Totti (Camoranesi 55); Toni (Del Piero 82), Gilardino (Iaquinta 64)
Ghana: Kingston; Paintsil, Kuffour, Pappoe (Illiasu 46), Mensah; Essien, Appiah, Muntari, E Addo; Amoah (Pimpong 68), Asamoah (Tachie-Mensah 88)
Ref: Simon (Bra)
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