FLORENCE, JUNE 19 -- The U.S. soccer team said arrivederci tonight to the World Cup and Italy.

The U.S. players also gave a touching farewell salute to fans who had come a distance and cheered them through all three of their defeats, the last one being tonight's frustrating 2-1 downer against Austria.

It was a brutal game as both teams struggled for some kind of success after having been beaten twice. But it was the Americans who failed to be among the 16 teams of the original 24 to advance to the second round. The Austrians were left clinging to a slim possibility.

The teams attacked one another as if the stakes were clear to each. Austrian players received five yellow cards, the Americans four. What's more, Peter Artner of Austria was ejected from the game in the 33rd minute when the game was scoreless.

The Austrians played 10 against 11 for the game's duration, sharpened their play and scored two second-half goals on breakaways that sent a message to the frustrated young Americans: Even when a situation looks favorable in international soccer, it can turn the other way as quickly as a swift counterattack.

"We thought we could start pushing forward," said U.S. defender John Doyle. But the Americans got caught badly twice.

To their credit, they didn't quit prematurely in the first appearance by the United States in the World Cup finals in 40 years. Substitute defender Brian Bliss came on late in the game to ignite three U.S. downfield charges. The second resulted in the Americans' second and final goal in 1990 World Cup play.

Midfielder Bruce Murray of Germantown, Md., scored in the 83rd minute from 10 yards out on a pass from Tab Ramos. Austrian goalkeeper Klaus Lindenberger promptly was given a yellow card for shoving the U.S.'s John Harkes after the goal -- typical of the frequently edgy play on both sides, but particularly by the Austrians.

In a peculiarity of the evening, two games were occupying the attention of Italians among the crowd of 34,857 in Stadio Comunale. Thousands listened on radio as Italy was beating Czechoslovakia, 2-0, in Rome in another Group A game. Periodically, when the U.S. and Austria were doing little, great roars or groans would accompany the action from Rome's Olympic Stadium.

What made the night so enthralling for the Italians was that Italy was clinching first place in the group, and the best seeding for the second round. And what made it especially sweet for them was that Italian Coach Azeglio Vicini finally relented and started the peoples' choices, Salvatore Schillaci and Roberto Baggio. Almost inevitably, they each scored a goal.

U.S. and Austrian fans had little to cheer about in the first half of their game. It was all-out warfare, and not very pretty: Tripping, shoving, elbowing. The Austrian players spent almost as much time arguing with the referee as playing. The bigggest whiner of all was tall Anton Polster, by far the Austrians' top scorer. If pro basketball fans think Danny Ainge is a crank, they should see Polster.

His problem was defender Doyle. Playing his second splendid game, Doyle denied Polster his every opportunity. Polster kept arguing that he was being roughed up, but apparently he wasn't watching the style of play on the rest of the field.

The U.S. team's Paul Caligiuri got a yellow card for pulling down Andreas Herzog. Jimmy Banks was carded for hammering on Andreas Ogris. Austria's Robert Pecl got a yellow card and, to boot, Murray scored a shove to the face, undetected. Artner saw red -- first anger, then the expulsion card -- for leveling Caligiuri. Was this Las Vegas or Florence?

By halftime, Austrian Coach Josef Hickersberger decided it was time for action. What did he have to lose? His team had shown nothing but inaction, playing 2 1/2 games without scoring. He made a move that was applauded by Austrians and appeared to the be to the Americans' liking. He benched Polster, who, in one Austrian journalist's opinion was either "tired in the legs or tired in the mind."

Polster's absence made for a better game. Complaints diminished. Unfortunately for the Americans, substitute Andreas Reisinger ran the field like a whippet. His spark helped doom the United States, as did defensive lapses on the wings.

The first came in the 49th minute when Ogris ran unimpeded down the left side, passed Banks and Desmond Armstrong. "There was a miscommunication between Desmond and Jimmy," said Ralph Perez, a U.S. assistant coach. "{Ogris} stepped in and made a great run on the ball."

"I thought he had him," Banks said of Armstrong. "He thought I had him."

Nobody did, and Ogris broke in free for an easy shot past goalkeeper Tony Meola. "We had men up and we had enough back," Doyle said. "We just didn't get the job done."

In the 63rd minute, Austria's Michael Streiter got lose along the right side for another breakaway. He centered the ball for the dangerous Gerhard Rodax, loose in the middle of the field, and Rodax had no trouble in lifting the ball over Meola's shoulder.

"It was very frustrating for us have a man advantage and to give up two goals," Doyle said. "I think everybody is hurting a little."

Perez suggested that a man advantage can sometimes be a disadvantage. "It stimulates a feeling among players that they have a litle more time," the assistant coach said. "We got fooled a little by that."

The two lessons the Americans were taught in their three Cup games, Perez said, were the "transition" game -- how quickly the flow can go the other way -- and "technical speed" -- being able not simply to run, but to move the ball rapidly with passes.

"We came with hopes of going to the second round," Doyle said. "We were surprised by Czechoslovakia's strength and the way they came out the first game. We dug ourselves such a big hole." The 5-1 defeat was a grand canyon from which the U.S. could never climb back.

"If we had tied Czechoslovakia, then with the 0-1 against Italy, we could have played for a tie tonight."

But the Americans had to play to win to have even the thinnest hope of gaining the second round. Unable to pack their defense, they made the two major mistakes and simply couldn't settle themselves to capitalize on the man advantage. And so their World Cup appearance went about as expected -- close in two of three games, but not quite close enough.

"We're closer than we thought," said midfielder Ramos. "We can be proud of the way we played." He might have added, especially the way they played in a glorious game two against Italy, on an almost perfect night in Rome.