ITALY 4-3 JAPAN
Some terrible refereeing by Argentine Diego Abal helped Cesare Prandelli’s Italy defeat Japan 4-3 in a game they did not really deserve to win. The Italians performed a second-half comeback with a few scares to claw back a two-goal deficit to beat the Samurai Blue in a seven-goal thriller to be handed a semi-final spot in the Confederations Cup.
First-half substitute Sebastian Giovinco scored the winner in the 86th in the best game of the tournament so far at the Arena Pernambuco, pounding home a cross from Claudio Marchisio.
Japan had Italy on the back foot from the kick-off, not letting up, never taking a back step and pressurising the Azzurri into their own half. Japan took the deserved lead on 21 minutes with a Keisuke Honda spot-kick in a match that was hounded by horrific refereeing.
The penalty was awarded when Mattia De Sciglio made a poor back pass to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon which forced the veteran stopper to bring the impressive Shinji Okazaki down. Abal pointed to the spot and only issued the unconvincing Buffon a yellow card. Buffon protested passionately that it was a clean tackle, but Abal thought otherwise and issued the booking. When replays showed Buffon did make the tackle, but Honda placed the penalty to the right of Buffon, and the keeper barely moved to save it.
For the majority of the first half, Italy struggled to contain Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan. Zaccheroni, an Italian who took over as coach of Japan three years ago, seemed to know just how to contain the Azzuri and on 33 minutes, the lead was doubled.
Giorgio Chiellini’s ill-timed clearing effort on a bouncing ball inside the area which Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa took advantage by firing in a volley on the spin. The tricky 24-year-old is fast becoming Japan’s most vital asset and claimed the Man-of-the-Match award in this game.
Italy did not threaten until Daniele De Rossi scored by from Andrea Pirlo corner with a perfect header just before the break. It was the Italians first corner of the game. However, goalscorer De Rossi will miss Italy’s last group game against hosts Brazil after picking up his second yellow card in two games.
The goal lit a fire under Italy, and Emanuele Giaccherini nearly drew the teams level when his shot cannoned off the post in first-half injury time. Soon after the break it was 2-2, due to a defensive error from Maya Yoshida. The Southampton defender lost the ball to Giaccherini on the goal line and the Italian forced a along the goal line aiming for the quiet Mario Balotelli. On 50 minutes, Atsuto Uchida intercepted and redirected the ball past Eiji Kawashima into his own net.
Two minutes later, the feeble referee was involved in another controversial penalty decision. Giovinco found himself inside the box and his shot was forced down into the ground by a great Masato Hasabe block, the flicked up and crashed against Hasabe’s arm as the Japanese defender was falling down to the ground and Abal pointed to the spot once again.
Using his usual stutter-step technique, Balotelli easily fooled Kawashim and converted for 3-2. The AC Milan starlet has now scored all 18 penalty kicks in his career, both with clubs and with the national side.
Like a Guardiola Barcelona side, Japan pressed and kepyt possession with some tremendous movement and passing, playing the best football of the tournament putting the likes of Spain and Brazil to shame.
Okazaki got a warranted goal, beating Riccardo Montolivo in the air to make it 3-3 from a header on 69 minutes. A draw would have been a good result for Japan heading into a winnable game against Mexico on Saturday, but Japan smelt Italian blood and went for the three points.
Passing the Italians off the pitch, the unlucky Japanese hit the post and crossbar in succession in the 82nd before against the run of play, Giovinco smashed in the winner following a run from Claudio Marchisio.
In the dying seconds Japan thought they had recovered a point with a close-range effort, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
It was a fantastic game and a fantastic performance for Japan against a strong Italian side. The tactics, energy and stamina from the Japanese along with their superior passing display showed that they were not in this tournament to make up the numbers. However although, they are now eliminated from the tournament, I for one, will be awaiting Saturday’s battle with Mexico to see this team again.
ITALY: Buffon, Maggio (Abate 59), Chiellini, De Sciglio, Aquilani (Giovinco 30), Balotelli, Barzagli, De Rossi, Montolivo, Pirlo, Giaccherini (Marchisio 68)
JAPAN: Kawashima, Honda, Nagatomo, Uchida (Sakai 73), Endo, Okazaki, Kagawa, Konno, Hasebe (Nakamura 90+2), Maeda (Havenaar 79), Yoshida
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