FIFA must be getting sick and tired of refereeing controversy after two crucial decisions by Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo dramatically altered the game.
The most crucial was to award Italy a penalty in the final seconds of injury time in the second half as Australia’s Lucas Neill was ruled to have brought down Fabio Grosso.
The decision was harsh at best, wrong at worst.
Just what Cantalejo expected Neill to do as he lay prone on the ground one can only wonder.
But the golden boy of Italian football Franceso Totti condemned the debate to history when he smashed the ball into the back of the net and ended the fairytale of the Australian side.
The whistleblower had already altered the game enormously when in the 50th minute he red carded Azzurri defender Marco Materazzi for a challenge on Australian midfielder Marco Bresciano.
The red card was 24th shown at the tournament so far and appeared to be excessive.
One for the ladies: Totti will no
doubt add to his fan club
Once Marcello Lippi’s men were reduced to 10 men they retreated and opted only to attack on the break.
As always, their trademark defence came to the fore as Australia struggled to break down their fabled opponents' resistance.
While the Oceania champions were able to hold possession they were crucially unable to pressure unflappable keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The best chance came when Basel midfielder Scott Chipperfield found space in the box with a delightful turn only to have the Juventus keeper parry the ball away.
The once under fire Lippi has now steered his side to a 22 match unbeaten run, the best streak for an Italian side since 1939.
The first half was a tense, tight, but ultimately scoreless battle as the sides seemed intent on starting with a cautious approach, no surprises given the low scoring affairs the knock out rounds have already seen and were destined to see again.
The early stages of the match saw both sides looking sharp in midfield but failing to produce any clear cut chances.
It all changed on 20 minutes when Italian striker Alberto Gilardino looked to hit a shot knocked down by strike partner Luca Toni, but Australian goal keeper Mark Schwarzer was able to get his gloves to it to push it over the bar.
Two minutes later it was the other extremity of the Middlesbrough shot stopper that foiled the three time champions next when a shot from Luca Toni was blocked by a trailing foot of Schwarzer.
Try as he might Lucas Neill can
simply not evaporate
The Australians also had their chances.
Captain Mark Viduka nearly had his first goal of the tournament when he hit a powerful header towards goal from a free kick after 24 minutes but Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon was equal to the challenge.
At the half hour mark, former Wollongong bus driver Chipperfield almost put his side in front when he smashed a lose ball from 12 yards, but unfortunately for the underdogs it went straight to Buffon.
The Italians will now face the winner of the Switzerland v Ukraine match later tonight in Hamburg on Friday.