Croatia has pulled off a shocking 2-1 upset of pre-World Cup favorite Italy in Ibaraki, in the only match played in Japan Saturday. The Italian side appeared to be robbed of two goals by poor officiating from the referees.
It was Croatia that looked impressive in the opening 45 minutes, blunting Italy's scoring attempts and creating good opportunities of their own on the counter-attack. The underdogs completely neutralized star Italian forward Christian Vieri, who was not a factor in the scoreless first half.
That appeared to change in the 49th minute, when Vieri headed the ball into the Croatian net. An offside call from the referee negated the score, although a replay showed it should have counted. Vieri protested so vehemently that he received a yellow card.
The Italian star finally tallied a goal that counted in the 55th minute, as he took a cross from Cristiano Doni and perfectly headed it into the corner for the 1-0 lead. It was his third goal of the Cup. But Croatia charged back, as Ivica Olic got the equalizer in the 73rd. The energized Croatians took a 2-1 lead three minutes later when Milan Rapaic got the ball on a deflection and lofted it into the net. According to Croatian coach Mirko Jozic, his team refused to give up.
"After Italy led 1-0, I think the most decisive moment was the equalizing kick," he said. "And even after that, they continued to attack the Italian goal."
Italy almost tied the match on a late free kick by Francesco Totti, but it rocketed off the post. Then in injury time, a pass from Italy's half of the field went over everyone's head and somehow dribbled past the keeper, Stipe Pletikosa, into Croatia's net. But for the second time, the referees ruled it no-goal, to secure Croatia's shocking 2-1 victory. Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni explained, "We controlled the game and I think that we would have at least deserved to have an equal result. I think that one of the two goals or maybe even both goals that were canceled were OK [should have counted]. I think a draw would have been a good result.
In South Korean action, South Africa beat Slovenia 1-0, while Brazil will advance to the second round after punishing China 4-0. The Chinese loss means they will not advance.
On Sunday in Japan, Mexico faces Ecuador in Miyagi, while Japan hosts Russia in Yokohama.