You can't say Brian McBride was prepared for it. A viciously delivered elbow under the eye, that is. Back in his days with Columbus Crew he had plastic surgery on his right and left cheeks in successive seasons. Titanium plates, which still support the facial tissues, are a legacy of similar assaults from defenders. So, it was always going to take more than the Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi's flailing arm, which drew blood but not surrender, to disrupt the US and Fulham striker's determination to maintain his team's presence in this tournament.
Everything about McBride, who suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism three years ago, convinces you of his desire to extract the maximum from his career, and his life. He scored in both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and is currently second in the US's all-time goalscorers' list. He is 34 today and the man whom the City of Columbus honoured on his return from Japan and Korea, where the US reached the quarter-finals, by declaring 1 July, 2002 "Brian McBride Day", knows that this will be his last major tournament.
The question is: will that US interest extend into a third week? Well, if McBride and his team-mates confront Ghana on Thursday with a similar vigour and resourcefulness - after being reduced to nine men against their opponents' 10 for virtually all of the second half - with which they fought a rearguard action against a typically mercurial Italy, they will. "Brian has a presence up front," McBride's team-mate, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, said. "He won lots of balls and allowed us to have a bit of possession. I just hope he can get a goal against Ghana." The US must defeat the African nation in their final Group E game to have a chance of reaching the last 16.
Keller, now with Borussia Mönchengladbach, added: "We learned from the Czech game [the 3-0 defeat] and we gave everything. These guys are dead tired but we proved that Americans don't roll over, that's for damn sure. It would have been a shame to concede a goal late, but we stuck in there. Of course we wanted three points but the point, in these circumstances, is phenomenal."
It was Keller who did much to help maintain that US optimism with some fabulous saves late on. Yet, earlier, Bruce Arena's men could have secured a famous victory. It was an unfortunate irony that substitute DaMarcus Beasley's "winner" should have been cancelled out by an assistant's flag because that man McBride, in an offside position, was in the line of Gianluca Buffon's sight.
Yesterday morning, the world was alive with Americans, determined to debate the morality of the current offside instructions to officials with you. Well, sorry, guys; the Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his flag-men had it right, just as his decision to dismiss the US's Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope and Italy's De Rossi was justified.
As the expulsions proceeded - only three times previously, in 1938 (Brazil v Czechoslovakia), 1954 (Hungary v Brazil) and 1998 (South Africa v Denmark) have there been three dismissals in a World Cup finals - so both teams were in a constant state of reorganisation. Given the space, it was astonishing that no further goals were scored once a 27th-minute own goal by Italy's Christian Zaccardo had negated Alberto Gilardino's headed opener five minutes earlier.
Marcello Lippi's men face Czech Republic in their final group game knowing that one point will still be enough for them to progress to the second round. The goalkeeper Buffon believes Italy may respond more positively to the pressure that will be on them against the Czechs on Thursday. "For us, we prefer to play with the tension of knowing that we are going through or going out," the Juventus player said. He almost sounded convincing. Unlike his team on Saturday night.Reuse content