In a 2013 Confederations Cup match that felt more like a World Cup battle, Italy came out on top on Wednesday, besting Japan by a score of 4-3 in Recife, Brazil, to keep pace with the hosts at the top of the Group A table.
FIFA.com had the tweet as the match ended:
Fox Soccer had the post as the semifinalists from Group A were finalized:
The Azzurri victory sets up a matchup between Italy and Brazil for the top spot in the Group A table. The loser will likely draw Spain in the semifinals, while the other will get the second-place finisher from Group B.
It also eliminates Japan, who was considered one of the dark-horse teams of the tournament. Although the Blue Samurai will be playing for pride against Mexico, they showed some of that promise early against Italy.
Japan struck first—and struck the ball often—in the first half, putting pressure on the Italian defense with the talented duo of Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa.
But it was Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who allowed the chance for Japan, as he was given a yellow card for a bad foul in the 21st minute to award Japan a penalty kick. Japan, who missed several chances to score against Brazil, would not miss out on the first great opportunity of this match.
Keisuke Honda beat Buffon on the penalty to give his side the early 1-0 lead.
That lead would double just 12 minutes later, when Manchester United midfielder Kagawa found the back of the net on a beautiful cross from Ryoichi Maeda. With a 2-0 lead well before the first half was over, it looked like the Blue Samurai were on the verge of an upset.
101 Great Goals had the tweet as Japan gained momentum for a potential upset and a shot at the next round of the tournament:
But alas, there's a reason they play a full 90-minute match.
Italy realized that less than 10 minutes later, when Daniele De Rossi cut the lead in half with a header in the 41st. Things turned around quickly, though, right after the two teams came back on the pitch for the second half in Brazil.
Italy took the lead by the time the 52nd-minute mark had reach the referee's stopwatch, as an own goal by Atsuto Uchida and a penalty kick by Mario Balotelli ended up erasing all the momentum Japan had created during the first half of the match.
As 101 Great Goals noted, the Italian star knows how to find the net from the penalty spot:
As Italy went up 3-2, it was interesting to note that the Azzurri hadn't played particularly well. Writer Paolo Bandini had the telling tweet and stats:
But Japan would come back strong in the latter portion of the second half.
Okazaki's header in the 68th minute tied the score at three, and the Asian side was once again in business and in control of the match.
As the match labored on into the final 10 minutes of action, Japan had the best chance to win in the 82nd minute. The connection of Kagawa and Okazaki managed to find iron twice, and the incredibly unlucky sequence ended up proving to be enough to doom the Blue Samurai just four minutes later.
Sebastian Giovinco, who came on in the 30th minute for Alberto Aquilani, made the biggest play of the match by finding the back of the net in the less than five minutes remaining.
Fox Soccer had the tweet as the Italians took the stunning lead:
Japan was still alive at that point, and managed to fire up more chances off the feet of Kagawa and Okazaki and the head of Yasuyuki Konno. None would ring true, and this tweet from KICK TV sums up the pain that Japan fans likely felt when a late offsides call killed another scoring chance to even it at four:
Italy comes out unscathed after a lackluster first half, but the goal-scoring ability of the Azzurri has proven again to be dangerous when Balotelli and his back line are in sync and focused. The Italians are now guaranteed to finish at least fourth in the Confederations Cup.
Let's take a look at some grades and what's next following this exciting match.
|Gianluigi Buffon||C+||Eiji Kawashima||C|
|Mattia di Sciglio||D||Atsuto Uchida (off 73')||D|
|Giorgio Chiellini||B-||Maya Yoshida||D+|
|Andrea Barzagli||C||Yasuyuki Konno||C-|
|Christian Maggio (off 59')||B||Yuto Nagatomo||C+|
|Andrea Pirlo||B||Makoto Hasebe (off 90'+2')||B-|
|Daniele De Rossi||A-||Yasuhito Endo||B+|
|Emanuele Giaccherini (on 68')||B-||Shinji Okazaki||A|
|Ricardo Montolivo||C-||Keisuke Honda||B+|
|Alberto Aquilani (off 30')||B-||Shinji Kagawa||A-|
|Mario Balotelli||B||Ryoichi Maeda (off 79')||C|
|Sebastian Giovinco (on 30')||A||Hiroki Sakai (on 73')||C+|
|Ignazio Abate (on 59')||C+||Mike Havenaar (on 79')||C+|
|Claudio Marchisio (on 68')||B||Kengo Nakamura (on 90'+2'||C+|
All four of the Group B teams will be in action on Thursday. Spain will take on Tahiti in what should be one of the higher-scoring matches of the tournament, and Nigeria will look to make a statement against the favored Uruguayan squad.
As for Group A, Italy has the other team at the top of the group table, Brazil, still left on its schedule, while Japan has a tilt with Mexico where all that's left to be had is bragging rights.
2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Table (as of 6/19/13)
|GROUP A||GROUP B|
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.