Photo by ISIphotos.com
The U.S. men's national team will play its first rematch from the 2006 World Cup today as they take on defending World Cup champion Italy (2:25pm, ESPN).
The U.S. team was the only opponent not to lose to Italy at the 2006 World Cup, battling for a 1-1 tie in one of the most memorable matches in recent national team history. The current installment of the U.S. team is considerably different from that team, with veterans Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and Eddie Pope having long-since retired, and the young squad that will take the field today will face its toughest test of the year.
Italy has undergone some changes as well, but actually bears a striking resemblance to the 2006 title-winning team. Head coach Marcelo Lippi is in charge once again, while the attack boasts many of the same weapons, including Luca Toni, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele DeRossi, Mauro Camoranesi and Gennaro Gattuso.
So what will today's match-up look like? Here is one potential set of lineups we could see tonight (along with match-ups to watch):
Projected USA-Italy lineups
Carlos Bocanegra is still questionable for today's match, but could get the start if he passes a fitness test on the hamstring injury he suffered vs. Honduras. The lineup is laid out in a 4-4-2 due to Bob Bradley's recent comments about a 4-4-2 being an option today. Does that mean he will actually use that formation today? Not really, but if he does, this is the squad we could see.
Now, if Benny Feilhaber doesn't get the nod, we just might see Conor Casey in the target forward role again. No, he wasn't particularly effective vs. Honduras, but he's the only true target forward on the roster. Another possibility is veteran DaMarcus Beasley getting a look in midfield.
If Bradley decides to match up with Italy's 4-3-3, then we have a better chance of seeing the lineup I suggested last week:
Altidore was listed centrally in the suggested lineup, but he was slotted out left vs. Costa Rica when the U.S. team started out in its 4-3-3. Folks wary of seeing a similar look vs. Italy should remember that the biggest failing of the Costa Rica lineup wasn't the formation, but rather the horrendous play of fullbacks DaMarcus Beasley and Marvell Wynne. A 4-3-3 relies heavily on the play of the fullbacks and Bornstein and Spector should provide solid options.
As for Italy, Toni is expected to get the start, but Alberto Gilardino has been lighting it up lately. Given the tight schedule, it makes sense for Italy to deploy its strongest possible lineups vs. the United States and Brazil, with the middle game against Egypt being used for younger players such as Giuseppe Rossi.
Fabio Cannavaro is out and Nicola LeGrottaglie is unlikely to start, meaning Fiorentina defender Alessandro Gamberini should get the nod next to Giorgio Chiellini. Gamberini may be the third-choice centerback, but he is still a standout coming off a very good club season.
Some key match-ups to watch include:
Andrea Pirlo vs. Michael Bradley. Prilo is the maestro in Italy's attack and Bradley needs to try and smother him. This might cut into Bradley's offensive contributions, but Feilhaber could pick up that slack if he started.
Oguchi Onyewu vs. Luca Toni. These two enjoyed a memorable battle in that 2006 World Cup meeting, and should clash again (assuming Toni starts). Toni hasn't been in the best form in recent months, but he'll still be a handful and will demand all of Onyewu's attention.
Giorgio Chiellini vs. Landon Donovan. Chiellini is one of the best young defenders in the world and should make life difficult for Donovan, assuming Donovan is deployed as a forward. Now, if Bradley chooses to play Donovan in a wing midfield role, then Chiellini will likely lock on Jozy Altidore.
Daniele DeRossi vs. Ricardo Clark. Two quality midfielders whose reputations have been marred by ugly moments in their career (DeRossi's elbow of McBride and Clark's karate kick on Carlos Ruiz), DeRossi and Clark will be called on to do some heavy lifting in central midfield, covering tons of ground and providing cover for the more creative members of their central midfields.
Jonathan Bornstein vs. Mauro Camoranesi. Bornstein is the new leader in the race to start at left back for the USA in 2010, but today will offer him with a very tough challenge against a veteran attacker in Camoranesi, who is mobile, intelligent and aggressive. A good game today would go a long way toward helping Bornstein lock up the starting left back job.
What do you think of today's USA-Italy match-up? What lineup do you see the USA using? Which match-up are you most looking forward to? Do you think the U.S. national team can pull off the upset?
Share your thoughts below.