The United States gained a rare victory over a soccer power, beating Italy 1-0 Wednesday night on Clint Dempsey's goal in the 55th minute for its first win over the Azzurri in 11 games over 78 years.
Dempsey, a Texan who has become an increasingly important element of the American team, took a short pass from Jozy Altidore following Michael Bradley's cross and put a right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area just past an outstretched hand of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
"I'd like to think that we're closing the gap and hopefully one day we can do something special," Dempsey said.
After returning to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years in 1990 and advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002, the Americans have struggled to make additional progress. They were knocked out in the first round of the 2006 World Cup and the second round of the 2010 tournament, eliminated both times with defeats to Ghana. They wasted a two-goal lead against Mexico last June and lost 4-2 in he final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, their regional championship.
That prompted to U.S. Soccer Federation to fire coach Bob Bradley and replace him with Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German national team star player and coach.
"It's historic for us beating a team of Italy's level," Klinsmann said. "But what we wanted to do above everything was to learn, to see how we could do against a team like Italy. I think the boys did very, very well. They played great for 90 minutes."
Among the seven nations considered the world powers — Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — it was just the ninth win for the United States to go along with 48 losses and six ties. The Americans had been 0-7-3 against Italy and had been outscored 32-4.
"It's a work in progress, trying to get there," Dempsey said. "It was a little bit of workout tonight, but we got the result."
Dempsey scored his 25th goal in 83 international appearances. A native of Nacogdoches who turns 29 on March 9, Dempsey has had the most accomplished season by a U.S. attacking player in European soccer. With 16 goals this season for Fulham, he's become the American career scoring leader in England's Premier League with 43 goals.
"Initially, I was going to stay where I was and have him lay it back to me," Dempsey said. "I saw the guy was covering. So I tried to move to my right to try get open so he could play me the ball. He did a great job of holding it up, playing me, and I just tried to hit it low and hard, far post, and it went in.
Dempsey also had the best U.S. chance in the first half, with a free kick from about 28 yards that Buffon saved with a two-handed punch.
No. 8 Italy, a four-time World Cup champion, is preparing for the start of the European Championship in June.
"With this spirit we'll have a great European Championship. I'm absolutely not worried," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "I have a lot to think about ahead of the Euros and I'll take the best things from this game — the will to win, the determination, the fight to get back. ... So it's not a 'lost' friendly match. There's a lot to take from this. I'm sure I'll have the team ready by the summer."
Italy dominated for stretches and outshot the U.S. 19-4. But the 31st-ranked Americans held as the Azzurri were called for offsides nine times — to none for the U.S.
With retired baseball star Mike Piazza watching from the stands alongside former U.S. forward Brian McBride, the Americans won their fourth straight match to improve to 5-4-1 under Klinsmann.
It was a measure of personal revenge for Klinsmann, the former German World Cup great. Germany, then coached by Klinsmann, lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinals and the Azzurri went on to win the title.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard had a big kick save in the fifth minute. Italy nearly tied the score in injury time when Riccardo Montolivo's shot went past a post.
Italy lost in Genoa for the first time since 1924. The previous time the Azzurri played at Stadio Luigi Ferraris was a match stopped in the seventh minute by crowd trouble. Italy was awarded a 3-0 win over Serbia in a Euro qualifier.
With the Americans wearing new road jerseys in blue with white sleeves, Klinsmann had most of his regulars back following victories over Venezuela and Panama while playing with a backup squad. He had hoped to be able to pair Dempsey with Landon Donovan for the first time since taking over as coach, but Donovan missed the match because of bronchitis.
Italy had its own personnel problem, especially up front where it was missing injured forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano. Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was left of the squad because of his temper and unpredictability.
Notes: Dempsey became just the fourth American to score against Italy, joining Buff Donelli (1934), John Harkes (1992) and Donovan (2009). There was also one own goal in 2006. ... The U.S. has outscored opponents 8-7 under Klinsmann.