Italy and Uruguay made strong cases for championship contention in this year’s Confederations Cup, but each came up just shop of a berth in the final courtesy of crushing semifinals losses to two of the best international teams in the world.
While Brazil and Spain battle it out for the trophy, Italy and Uruguay are left to fight for pride. The Confederations Cup may just be a warm-up for the 2014 World Cup, but each side has an opportunity to make a big statement with a win on Sunday.
Italy are reeling from a penalty-shootout loss to Spain last week, but considering the absence of striker Mario Balotelli, it could have been much worse. The Italian side played a tremendous match, and while Uruguay feature a ton of firepower on the attack, Italy proved they can’t be taken lightly in this contest.
Let’s take a look at the vitals for this match and highlight three players to watch in the Confederations Cup third-place game. While they aren’t exactly unknowns, there’s no denying the impact each player will have on this contest.
Where: Arena Fonte Nova; Salvador, Brazil
When: Sunday, June 30, at 12 p.m. EDT
Television/Streaming: ESPN2, WatchESPN
Players to Watch
Edinson Cavani, Uruguay
When discussing Uruguay’s X-factors, there isn’t a bigger “X” than striker Edinson Cavani.
Cavani is arguably the most talented finisher on the pitch in nearly every contest, and his ability to both create scoring chances and finish them off separates him from the competition. If Uruguay are to find success against Italy, they’ll need Cavani to play his best match.
The Italian side was terrific against Spain in the semifinals, though, holding the world’s best team scoreless into the penalty shootout. With a physical back line and a world-class keeper, it isn’t a surprise that any team struggles to find the net against Italy—even one as talented as Spain.
Uruguay come close to matching Spain’s firepower, though, and in what should be a close contest, Cavani will have to capitalize on his scoring chances. Look for the Napoli striker to open things up with Uruguay’s first goal of the match at some point in the first half.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
To suggest Italy’s keeper will be their most important player may seem like a disservice to the team’s other 10 starters, but it’s hard to not give Gianluigi Buffon credit for his efforts throughout the tournament.
Make your pick for the Confederations Cup third-place match.
Buffon has made 16 saves in four Confederations Cup matches, including four masterful efforts to keep Spain off the board in regulation. He hasn’t been in top form in every match, though, and he’ll need to replicate his performance against Spain if his team is to have any chance against Uruguay’s powerful attack.
Italy’s back line is gritty and physical—an unfavorable matchup for a Uruguayan side with some finesse on the attack. As long as Italy’s back line does its job, Buffon won’t be asked to do too much, as was the case against both Japan and Brazil in the group stage.
Look for the 35-year-old to set the tone in this contest and hold Uruguay to two goals or less in giving the Italian side a good opportunity to keep the match close down to the wire.
Alberto Gilardino and Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy
This one is a packaged deal. If Italy are to find the net against Uruguay, they’ll need Alberto Gilardino and Stephan El Shaarawy to step up in a big way.
According to Mark Doyle of Goal.com, Gilardino is doubtful, but El Shaawary could be a huge factor in this contest:
Injuries to Barzagli & Pirlo mean we could see Italy revert to a back four. Gilardino doubtful yet El Shaarawy might be overlooked! #Confeds— Mark Doyle (@Mark_Doyle11) June 30, 2013
The reason is simple: Italy have been decimated by injuries to this point. Mario Balotelli sat out last match with a thigh injury, and as Goal.com reported, Andrea Pirlo and Andrea Barzagli have both been ruled out against Uruguay:
Andrea Pirlo & Andrea Barzagli have both been ruled out of Italy's clash with Uruguay on Sunday: http://t.co/YZhfv7KHMU— Goal.com (@goal_intl) June 29, 2013
Against a powerful Uruguayan side, Italy have to augment their attack with some big performances to make up for those losses. The pressure will be on Gilardino and El Shaarawy, and each will have to come up big for their team in this match.