Italy have claimed a spot in the Confederations Cup semifinals after coming back from two goals down to beat Japan in a thrilling contest at the Arena Pernambuco, with the slim win putting the Azzuri tied on six points with Brazil in Group A. Cesare Prandelli’s side were down 2-0 by the thirty-third minute but showed spirit to come back and continue their six match unbeaten run.
Japan surprisingly started the match brightly, controlling the match in the opening twenty-minutes. Although the Asian side were unlucky to see Ryoichi Maeda’s six-yard header blocked by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, their fortunes drastically changed in the twenty-second minute when Mattia De Sciglio ‘s mishit back-pass rolled right into the path of Shinji Okazaki. Okazaki looked sure to collect the ball and score, but Buffon was amazingly quick off his line and managed to tackle the ball away just before Okazaki touched it. To the dismay of the Italy players, referee Diego Abal wrongly awarded Japan a penalty, ignoring Buffon’s vigorous arguing, which earned the goalkeeper a yellow card.
Keisuke Honda coolly slotted the penalty into the corner of the net, and Japan continued to push forward. Yet another mistake from the Italy defense allowed Japan to stunningly double their lead in the ten minutes later, with Giorgio Chiellini mistiming a headed clearance, letting the ball bounce over him. It bounced in the middle of the crowded Italy box, before Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa beautifully turned and hit a powerful low side-volley into the bottom corner of the Italy net. Japan pushed even farther forward, and Italy failed to create any chances until they surprisingly grabbed one goal back. Andrea Pirlo’s corner from the right found Daniele De Rossi at the front post, who rose up to hit a thumping header into the back of the net. The goal energized the Azzuri, and Emanuele Giaccherini almost grabbed Italy the equalizer, with the midfielder’s close range shot slamming off the crossbar deep into first half stoppage time.
Italy kept up their high energy level at the start of the second half, and Prandelli’s side equalized in the fiftieth minute. Giaccherini skipped past a Japan defender down the byline, and attempted to cut the ball back to Mario Balotelli. Stuto Uchida came reached out on the slide to intercept, but ended up kicking the ball past a helpless Eiji Kawashima into the back of his own net. Two minutes Italy completed the astonishing comeback, with Sebastian Giovinco’s shot bouncing of the underside of Makoo Hasebe’s leg and slightly grazing the defender’s arm that was coming down to break his fall. The referee absurdly called the penalty for handball, and Balotelli sent the keeper the wrong way with the PK, coolly slotting home Italy’s third.
Japan refused to except defeat though, with Okazaki rising above Riccardo Montitovo to meet Yasuhito Endo’s free-kick from the right at the near post, glancing a powerful header past Buffon into the back of the net. The match looked to be headed for a draw even though Italy were pressing high, but De Rossi was slipped in down the right of goal and cut the ball across to Giovinco, who passed the ball into the back of the open net from point-blank range. Japan still refused hoped for a last gasp equalizer, and got the ball in the back of the net in the last minute of regular time, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Moments later the full-time whistle blew, sealing Italy a spot in the semifinals.
Man of the Match: Daniele De Rossi