Italy prevailed in a captivating match against Japan in Recife, while Neymar starred for Brazil in a win over Mexico at the Castelao in Fortalenza.
Meanwhile, Uruguay prepared for a do-or-die showdown with Nigeria while Spain pondered numerous changes for Thursday’s match against Tahiti.
Brazil 2-0 Mexico (9’ Neymar; 90+3’ Jo)
Once again Neymar thrilled the home support at the Confederations Cup, and once again the Barcelona-bound forward opened the scoring in the early going—his volley from a Dani Alves cross leaving Mexico goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona with no chance after deflecting off a defender.
But Brazil mostly fired blanks from there, with each of Alves, Hulk and Neymar each coming close before the break but failing to hit the target, nevermind put the ball in the back of the net.
Mexico enjoyed some periods of ascendancy following the restart, and in the 60th minute Javier Hernandez was denied an equalizer by defender David Luiz, whose vital, sliding effort kept the hosts in front heading into the final stretch.
El Tri had one or two more half-chances before the final whistle, and late on they somehow took the game to their opponents without producing that elusive equalizer. Neymar, meanwhile, was putting in a superb all-around performance, and he rounded out his display with a delicious assist on Jo’s insurance marker in the third minute of second-half stoppage time.
Italy 4-3 Japan (41’ De Rossi; 50’ Uchida o.g.; 52’ Balotelli; 86’ Giovinco—21’ Honda; 33’ Kagawa; 69’ Okazaki)
Italy prevailed in the most exhilarating match of the Confederations Cup so far, but only just.
Japan took the lead after 21 minutes when referee Diego Abal awarded the Asian champions a dubious penalty. But Keisuke Honda made no mistake from the spot as the Blue Samurai opened their tournament account.
Twelve minutes later Japan were ahead by a pair thanks to Shinji Kagawa—the Manchester United playmaker evading a Giorgio Chiellini challenge before putting the ball in his quiver and unleashing an arrow of a shot past Azzurri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
This match showed no signs of settling, and moments after picking up a yellow card Daniele De Rossi had Italy back to within a goal after heading Andrea Pirlo’s well-placed corner into goal.
Although Italy trailed at the break they would claim three of the four goals scored in the second half, including a Maya Yoshida own goal that restored level terms.
Moments later, Italy had their turn to take an undeserved penalty when Abal pointed to the spot following Makoto Hasebe’s accidental handball, but Mario Balotelli made no mistake from the spot as Italy took their first lead of the night.
Shinji Okazaki tied things up at three goals apiece with a delightful free-kick goal in the 69th minute, but with four minutes to play Sebastian Giovinco netted the winner following Claudio Marchisio’s well-placed pass.
We found ourselves a goal down early on which obviously changed the circumstance of the game...From then on everything changed. We pinned Brazil back in their half, kept the ball, got forward and took risks. We dominated most of the game, but we didn’t show the ruthlessness required to finish our moves and level the game. We’re missing that final touch, but that’s the way football goes. – Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre, following Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Brazil. (FIFA.com)
Player of the day
Neymar. Once again the 21-year-old was Brazil’s best player in a win, and although they struggled at times to break down Mexico, it was hardly for lack of effort on behalf of the former Santos forward, who put in an energetic, box-to-box performance against the Gold Cup winners.
Spain come into Thursday’s match against Tahiti unbeaten in 23 matches and confident of extending their streak against the Oceania champions.
Manager Vicente del Bosque is expected to ring the changes for the day’s early kickoff at the Maracana, with Victor Valdes, Javi Martinez, David Villa and Fernando Torres among those expected to get a run-out.
Tahiti boss Eddy Etaeta is sweating over the fitness of captain Nicolas Vallar, who is struggling to overcome an ankle injury.
Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa picked up yellow cards in Spain’s match against Uruguay earlier in the week, while no Tahiti player went into the book against Nigeria.
Projected Spain XI: Valdes; Azpilicueta, Albiol, Martinez, Monreal; Mata, Fabregas, Cazorla; Silva, Torres, Villa
Projected Tahiti XI: Roche; Aitamai, Ludivion, A.Tehau, Vallar, Simon; Atani, Bourebare, Caroine, Hue; J.Tehau
In Thursday’s late match the champions of Africa and South America will go head-to-head when Nigeria and Uruguay tangle at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova.
Stephen Keshi is expected to make one or two changes to the side that thumped Tahiti 6-1 on Monday—among them the introduction of striker Ideye Brown at the expense of Anthony Ujay.
Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez will likely keep the faith with his four-man defense and could well name the same lineup that fell 3-1 to Spain on Sunday.
Nigeria’s Kenneth Omeruo is at risk of a suspension following a yellow card against Tahiti, while Edinson Cavani and Diego Lugano were booked for Uruguay against Spain.
Projected Nigeria XI: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona, Elderson; Mba, Mikel, Ogude; Musa, Ideye, Oduamadi
Projected Uruguay XI: Muslera; M.Pereira, Lugano, Godin, Caceres; Ramirez, Perez, Gargano, Rodriguez; Suarez, Cavani
Protests continue to spread throughout Brazil as demonstrators call for an end to transport tax increases, corruption and the general social cost of staging next year’s World Cup.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Brazil forward Hulk sympathized with the protesters, saying, "After seeing the people on the streets [clamouring] for improvements, it makes me feel like joining them.” (BBC)
So far more than a quarter-million people have taken to the streets since the start of the Confederations Cup, and ahead of Brazil’s match against Mexico in Fortalenza, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a demonstration.