x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rossi haunts Arena

Italy's squad for the Confederations Cup seems to have been designed to give fringe players a chance to stake their claim for the World Cup.

Giuseppe Rossi celebrates his second goal against USA in the Confederations Cup on Monday night.
Giuseppe Rossi celebrates his second goal against USA in the Confederations Cup on Monday night.

PRETORIA// Italy's squad for the Confederations Cup seems to have been designed to give fringe players a chance to stake their claim for inclusion in the World Cup, and Giuseppe Rossi certainly did that. Summoned from the bench for Gennaro Gattuso, Rossi changed the game against the USA on Monday night. With his first touch, he picked the ball up just inside the USA half, advanced and, as nobody moved to close him down, fired a magnificent 25-yard drive just inside Tim Howard's right-hand post to cancel out Landon Donovan's first-half penalty.

"He's a great player, a young player, very technical, very fast," said Gattuso. "For me he changed the game." If anything, Rossi's second goal - to make it 3-1 - was even better, as he smashed in an awkwardly bouncing ball following a superb turn by Andrea Pirlo on the left. Italy's improvement after Rossi's introduction was perhaps partly down to their change of shape from 4-3-3 to an attacking 4-4-2 but, still, it was an impressive way to underline his potential.

Back in Teaneck, New Jersey, where Rossi was born 22 years ago and Clifton, where he was raised and where his parents still live, there must have mixed feelings. "My friends back home always want to see me do well, so therefore whenever I do well they're always happy for me," he said. "It's a very important thing to have close people by you." He has always been clear where his allegiances lie. Four years ago Rossi was training at the Red Bull Academy, New York, and rejected an invitation to take part in the USA's pre-World Cup training camp.

The then US coach, Bruce Arena, responded with a quote that could haunt him for the rest of his career. "We're not," he said, "going to go chasing after 18 year olds who can't get a game for their club side and tell me they want to play for Italy." Whether he becomes as notorious for that line as the Decca executive who turned down the Beatles remains to be seen, but Rossi's chances of fulfilling that youthful ambition look bright.

He is flourishing at Villarreal, scoring 23 goals in 57 appearances after ending his two-year spell at Manchester United in search of regular first-team football. However, Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, was canny enough to insert a clause in the £6.6million (Dh39.8m) 2007 transfer that gives him first refusal on the player should Villarreal decide to sell their prize asset. "My dream was always to play for Italy," said Rossi who made his debut for Italy in Oct 2008.

"That's what I chose and now I'm very happy to be part of the squad." sports@thenational.ae