If you were to watch the back end of the first half between Italy and China on Tuesday and have no idea what the score actually was, you would have probably thought that it was the latter that was ahead rather than the former. China was not just creating the majority of the chances, but putting Italy’s steady defense under a lot of heat where they had to frequently handle the opposition’s pressure.
Then Aurora Galli did what Aurora Galli does.
And everything just seemed right in the world again.
Galli’s strike from long distance all of four minutes into the second half gave Italy the breathing that they desperately needed as China was really starting to make things interesting. Team that with about as strong as a defensive performance as Italy has put in so far this tournament and Le Azzurre’s Women’s World Cup isn’t over yet thanks to their 2-0 win over China, booking their ticket into the quarterfinals for the second time in the country’s history.
Not bad for a team that was thought to be the third-best team in their group, huh?
Instead, Italy’s the last team from Group C still remaining. (What is logic and going solely off FIFA rankings anyway?)
Entering the game, not only were Italy the favorite, but a lot of the narrative included Italy’s attack going up a China squad that allowed just one goal in the group stage and being considered one of the stronger third-place finishers to get to the knockout round. And after the first 15-20 minutes, you could have hit that narrative right on the money.
Then things changed, and China was the team that was on the front foot, throwing numbers forward and putting cross into the Italy box at a rate that seemed like there was going to be not much time to rest at all before the halftime break arrived.
Luckily for Italy, Galli was able to double their lead with another one of what is becoming a trademark long-distance strike that opposing goalkeepers have no chance in stopping. This wasn’t the kind of shot destined for the top corner like against Jamaica, but instead a low rocket into the bottom corner.
And when you’ve got a defense playing well like Italy’s defense is right now, good things are probably going to happen.
Italy’s going to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals because of it.That’s not something I expected to type a couple of weeks ago, but I’m not going to object to it.
This team deserves it.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- FIFTY-ONE CLEARANCES. YOU GUYS.
- Laura Giuliani made five saves in the win over China. There is obviously no better one than the save she made in the 28th minute. That is just a thing of beauty, and I will not judge you AT ALL if you watch that five or six times in a row without looking at anything else on the internet.
- At this point, Giuliani’s already got one hell of a highlight video from this World Cup that you can put alongside questionable techno or dance music. Maybe a little improvement is needed when it comes to distribution, but Giuliani’s shot stopping has been 100 percent on point in Italy’s four games thus far.
- Speaking of on point, how about the play of Sara Gama and Elena Linari at the heart of Italy’s defense? They dealt cross ... after cross ... after cross ... after cross and pretty much handled it all with the kind of result that you’d want them to do.
- It was fitting that in the game where a non-Juventus player scores a goal, the next goal that is scored was courtesy of ... a Juventus player. And it was one heck of a strike that Galli had, too.
- Basically, if you need a spark or a goal off the bench, having Aurora Galli at your disposal is a pretty good thing to be able to have if you’re head coach Milena Bertolini.
- This was more of a frustrating game individually for Barbara Bonansea than one where she was racking up scoring chance after scoring chance. But, as you can see with how Italy has attacked teams and how their runs are designed to hug the opposition’s backline, there’s the chance for it to be anybody’s day. Tuesday it was Giacinti, Saturday it could be Bonansea again. The biggest thing was that even with Bonansea not having a great game, Italy was still able to create a good number of chances against a pretty strong team on the defensive end.
- As I said on Twitter: Death, taxes and Italy being caught just barely offsides multiple times in a game. You know it’s going to happen — it’s definitely become a constant — you just don’t know when exactly.
- A lot has been made about Italy’s defense (deserved) and attack (also deserved), but the midfield of Manuela Giugliano and Valentina Cernoia continues to shine. Then you throw in Galli and it becomes that much more dangerous.
- Martina Rosucci, the only Juventus player to not log any minutes in the group stage, finally got her Women’s World Cup debut on Tuesday. Knowing what the last 10 months has been like for Rosucci and having to come back from a serious knee injury, running onto the field as a substitute for a close friend like Bonansea had to be one hell of a memorable experience. And it came in a win, too, which is always a nice little cherry on top.
- It’s either the Netherlands or Japan on Saturday. Giddyup because here comes the heavy hitters.