FIFA Confederations Cup Preview: Italy v Japan
By Football News
Italy will secure their place in the semi-finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup should they beat Japan on Wednesday.
Cesare Prandelli's men kicked off their campaign with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Mexico, as Andrea Pirlo's fabulous free-kick and Mario Balotelli's late goal cancelled out Javier Hernandez's penalty.
Japan, meanwhile, suffered a 3-0 humbling at the hands of hosts Brazil, and need to avoid defeat at the Itaipava Arena in Pernambucano if they are to stand any chance of progressing.
These teams last met in 2001 and shared a 1-1 draw at the Saitama Stadium as the hosts stepped up their preparations for hosting the 2002 World Cup.
But Italy should be firm favourites for victory this time around, with the Euro 2012 finalists having not tasted defeat since losing to France in November 2012 - a run which spans seven fixtures.
Japan's performances over that period have been less encouraging, with a 1-0 victory against minnows Iraq providing their only win in the last five outings.
Coincidentally, the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions have an Italian coach: former Juventus, Inter and Milan manager Alberto Zaccheroni.
Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is expected to earn his 130th international cap for Italy in this fixture and will move just six short of all-time leading appearance maker Fabio Cannavaro as a result.
Yuto Nagamoto, who plays his club football with Inter in Serie A, is likely to get the nod at left-back again for Japan. And he will come up against some familiar faces, with all but one member of the Italy squad - Paris Saint-Germain's Salvatore Sirigu - currently plying their trade in the Italian top flight.
Japan have met European opposition in the FIFA Confederations Cup on three previous occasions, with all of those games decided by a single-goal margin.