Italy will be able to secure their place in the knockout stage of the Confederations Cup with a win over Japan on Wednesday.
So far, the tournament has been very good, even arguably better than the 2012 Euro or 2010 World Cup. You don't have the event watered down by a bunch of average teams overmatched by the elite.
Group A looks to be the better of the two, and you'll be seeing why on Wednesday. The first match featuring Brazil and Mexico will likely overshadow Italy vs. Japan. That doesn't mean it won't be a cracking match between two talented sides.
Here is a quick preview for this Group A fixture.
When: Wednesday, June 19, at 6 p.m.
Where: Arena Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
Live Stream: ESPN3
What's at Stake
This is a massive game for both sides. Neither team's fate is complete by this point, so each can change things in a major way with a win or a loss.
Italy looked very good at times against Mexico, but there were definite holes in the Azzurri's game. They did well to maintain possession; however, on more than one occasion, they let an attack go to waste because of poor finishing.
Cesare Prandelli will definitely want to see a better performance against Japan. Plus, a win means that Italy is making it to the next round. The only thing in doubt will be if they qualify as first or second in the group.
The other Italian on the touchline, Alberto Zaccheroni, is under slightly more pressure. His squad was thoroughly outclassed by Brazil in its first match. There are a lot of things he'll need to fix against Italy.
This match is pretty much do or die for Japan. With a loss, they won't be eliminated completely, but they'll need Mexico to lose to Brazil and then have Brazil lose to Italy. That's a lot of stuff that would have to go right.
Italy Player to Watch: Mario Balotelli
It was mostly good Mario who showed up against Mexico. Balotelli was strong enough in the attack and did very well to bully his way through for his goal.
There were a few moments where it looked like Balotelli might come unhinged. He managed to keep it together for the duration of the match, though. Following the goal, he did pick up a yellow card for taking off his shirt. That was a bit of an issue, if only a slight one.
Prandelli seems to have found a way to handle Balotelli. The player who suited up for Inter Milan and Manchester City generally wasn't the one who suited up for Italy.
If Balotelli is on his game, Japan will have their hands full trying to rein him in. If the player is struggling, then his teammates will have to make sure that he doesn't completely lose it mentally.
Japan Player to Watch: Keisuke Honda
Keisuke Honda has been one of the more overlooked midfielders in the world over the past couple of seasons. He did well at VVV-Venlo, but moving to CSKA Moscow meant that he would be entering the footballing periphery as few fans watch the Russian league every week.
This is a great opportunity to see the talent Honda possesses. Over the last three seasons in the Russian Premier League, he's recorded 19 goals and 17 assists.
The Confederations Cup is also a great opportunity for Honda to put his talents on display before a potential move away from CSKA.
A dynamic playmaker, Honda will be able to thread his teammates through on goal or go after it himself on the attack.
With Japan likely looking to break on the counter, having a player like Honda is a necessity.
Italy will control the match from start to finish. It's just a matter of limiting the defensive mistakes and making the most of the chances in the attack.
Japan have a good number of attackers. If the Azzurri make the same kind of errors on defense, the likes of Honda and Shinji Kagawa will make them count.
Regardless, there's too much talent in this Italian squad to see them losing to Japan. Prandelli really has them firing on all cylinders. Italy have looked poor in some friendlies, but when it comes to the important matches, they turn it on.
They'll struggle to find the back of the net early on. As the match goes on, it will be the Azzurri on the ascendancy more and more. They'll get the critical goal and then the floodgates will open.
Italy 3, Japan 1
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