Pirlo Leads Italy Past Ghana at World Cup

The Associated Press
Monday, June 12, 2006; 11:56 PM

HANOVER, Germany -- Italy responded to the corruption scandal back home with some of the most exciting soccer of this World Cup.

Andrea Pirlo converted a set play to perfection for the Azzurri's first goal in the 40th minute, and Vincenzo Iaquinta finished off a 2-0 win over Ghana in the 83rd.

Italy produced 13 shots on goal to Ghana's four and hit the crossbar and goalpost once each.

"It was the best soccer of the tournament so far," said FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who attended Monday's game.

Last week, Blatter issued an ultimatum to Italian authorities, telling them to decide on punishments for the scandal by the end of next month. Prosecutors in four Italian cities are investigating allegations of match-fixing, referee arrangements and illegal betting.

"It's a nice complement, especially coming from the top," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said of Blatter's comments. "We had an enormous number of possibilities to score."

Ghana missed a number of chances, but showed itself worthy of playing among soccer's elite.

"I think we did our best tonight, and our best was not enough," midfielder Michel Essien said. "They are one of the favorites, and to play football like this against them is not easy."

The win may have been costly for Italy. Playmaker Francesco Totti exited the game after taking a hit on his surgically repaired left leg in the second half. His status for Saturday's game with the United States is uncertain.

Totti didn't seem too concerned.

"I took a hit below the knee," he said. "I'm happy with how I played tonight. The more I play, the better my condition gets."

The Azzurri also picked up three yellow cards.

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