By Daniella Matar
GENOA, Italy — The United States beat Italy for the first time in 11 games over 78 years, a 1-0 victory in an exhibition Wednesday night on Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 55th minute.
Dempsey 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.
Although just an exhibition, it was a rare U.S. victory over a world power.
“I’d like to think that we’re closing the gap and hopefully one day we can do something special,” Dempsey said.
It was the 25th goal in 83 international appearances for Dempsey, a veteran of two World Cups and one of the players counted on to lead the Americans in qualifying for the 2014 tournament.
“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.”
A native of Nacogdoches, Texas, 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
The loss was particularly deflating for eighth-ranked Italy, a four-time World Cup champion preparing for the start of the European Championship in June. The No. 31 Americans, who are getting ready for their opening World Cup qualifier in June, had been 0-7-3 against Italy and had been outscored 32-4.
Italy dominated for stretches but the American defense held and the Azzurri were called for offsides nine times.
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 Jurgen Klinsmann, who took over as U.S. coach from Bob Bradley last summer.
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.
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.