FIFA Confederations Cup: Italy 4 Japan 3
By Football News
Italy have qualified for the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup after triumphing 4-3 in a thriller against an impressive Japan.
Despite going behind 2-0 in the first half, Italy scored three goals in the space of 11 minutes either side of the break to move into the lead and, while Japan looked like they would win after Shinji Okazaki equalised with 21 minutes remaining, Cesare Prandelli's Italian side eventually triumphed thanks to a goal from Sebastian Giovinco.
Giovinco, who came on for a very disappointing Alberto Aquilani on the half-hour mark, provided some much-needed spark in Italy's front third and finished off a nice move in the 86th minute, tapping home after a cut-back from fellow substitute Claudio Marchisio.
Japan were unfortunate to miss out on at least a draw at Itaipava Arena Pernambuco and looked to have made it 4-4 with two minutes remaining when Maya Yoshida tapped home from close range but the central defender was correctly ruled offside.
The victory takes Italy into the semi-finals alongside Group A-rivals Brazil, who overcame Mexico 2-0 in the earlier match on Wednesday, while Japan have been eliminated from the Confederations Cup.
After a fairly timid performance in their 3-0 defeat to Brazil on Saturday, Japan started the clash in Recife at full intensity, with Shinji Kagawa at the centre of everything.
The Manchester United midfielder had a lot of joy collecting the ball on the left-hand side of midfield, too deep for Italy's right-back Christian Maggio to pick him up, and in the fifth minute Kagawa produced the first big chance for Japan.
Kagawa pushed forward down the left before cutting in on his right and picking out Ryoichi Maeda's run into the penalty area but the 31-year-old striker headed the ball straight at Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
In the 16th minute, Kagawa tested Buffon himself, striking from long-range and forcing the Italian captain to tip the ball away.
Japan scored the goal their play deserved five minutes later through a spot-kick from Keisuke Honda after Buffon was judged to have tripped Okazaki with his legs in the penalty area, although the two players seemed to reach the ball at the same time.
Italy were struggling to gain possession and it was 2-0 three minutes after the half-hour mark as Prandelli's side failed to clear their defence, with Giorgio Chiellini missing a header, allowing Kagawa to turn in the box and fire a volley into the bottom corner of Buffon's net.
Kagawa's goal seemed to finally spark Italy and after Andrea Pirlo curled a free-kick just over the bar, the Juventus midfielder set up his team's opening goal, putting a corner on Daniele De Rossi's head in the 41st minute.
Japan finished the half nervously and Italy could have been level at the break but Emanuele Giaccherini's shot from Mario Balotelli's knock-down struck the post just before half-time.
Luck played a big role in Italy's move into the lead in the opening seven minutes of the second half, with Giaccherini somehow keeping the ball in field before his cross was put into the net by Atsuto Uchida in the 50th minute, while Makoto Hasebe was very unfortunate to concede a penalty a minute later, after Giovinco's shot squeezed through the Japanese skipper's legs and onto his hand.
Balotelli made no mistake from the spot and suddenly Italy led 3-2.
After a terrible 15-minute period either side of half-time, Japan recovered and drew level in the 69th minute when Okazaki headed Yasuhito Endo's free-kick past Buffon.
Japan were suddenly on top again and had a couple of chances to take the lead, with Honda gliding through Italy's defence to force Buffon into a fine save, while in the 82nd minute Okazaki and Kagawa hit the woodwork within seconds of each other.
But having failed to take advantage of possession, Japan were made to pay with four minutes remaining when De Rossi found Marchisio in behind Yuto Nagatomo, who had plenty of time to square the ball to Giovinco for the decisive goal.