Italy began their World Cup campaign in stylish, confident mood with a comfortable victory over tournament newcomers Ghana in Hanover.
AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring after 39 minutes before
substitute Vincenzo Iaquinta put the game beyond their African opponents with
eight minutes remaining.
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
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
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
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
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.