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Thursday June 20 2013
Italy survive Samurai scare

Italy defeated Japan in a Confederations Cup thriller in Recife on Wednesday. Luca Cetta dissects the action from a topsy-turvy encounter.

Wow, how about that! Have you all recovered yet? What a gripping contest. Just be glad it was the Confederations Cup and not the real thing – imagine the nervous tension. In a game that had it all, Italy managed to sneak a 4-3 victory against a talented and spirited Japanese side. You almost didn’t want it to end, but in a way are so thankful it did. The neutrals loved the entertainment, but Cesare Prandelli will be extremely worried about the Azzurri’s quality.

Sebastian Giovinco may have tapped home the winner with four minutes remaining, but Italy were blunt in their assessment post-match. Emanuele Giaccherini – who hit the post and created a goal – said Italy “didn’t deserve to win.” Prandelli noted the Azzurri “struggled like crazy” and Daniele De Rossi called the result the only positive.

What is it about the second match of a tournament that Italy fears? De Rossi signalled a warning for his teammates following the win against Mexico to remember four years ago. In South Africa, a win over the United States was followed by a drab loss to Egypt. That put qualification on a knife-edge and Brazil duly dispatched of Italy, who went home early.

Think back through the years. Rather than build on their first result, Italy tends to take qualification down to the third match. Much to the detriment of its supporters. Euro 2012 is a very recent example. So too World Cup 2010. They are not isolated incidents. Go back to 1962. Look at the World Cup four years later. Head through to Spain 1982. Euro ‘96 stalled in the second match, as did the Asian adventure in 2002. The European Championships in 2004 and 2008 went down to the wire following winnable games which turned into draws with Sweden and Romania. Sandwiched in-between was a crazy match in 2006 against the USA. Sometimes Italy recover. Other times they go home early. This match was a little different as it – somehow – ended with three points. But only just. Certainly performance-wise it continued the tradition of the second-game blues.

What can Prandelli take from this match? “I liked to see this Italy suffer and fight for the result at all costs. We could’ve settled, but instead we kept fighting,” he noted. That’s true. Italy did overturn a two-goal deficit and then win it as Japan turned the screw. Gianluigi Buffon – harsh concession of a penalty aside – kept his team in the contest with a series of saves. Daniele De Rossi led the comeback with a bullet header and was the only midfielder to get a foothold on proceedings. His fabulous pass for Claudio Marchisio also provided the winner. Mario Balotelli – who kept his perfect penalty-taking record intact following another dubious decision – also looked lively.

Meanwhile, Prandelli was bold to replace Alberto Aquilani just 30 minutes in for Giovinco, who played well. Italy were 2-0 down at that stage but it paid dividends. His introduction – coupled with Japan tiring from their lightning early pace – saw Italy very nearly draw level by the interval. As it turned out, Italy netted three times either side of half-time in an 11 minute spell to lead.

The tactician will have much to ponder about the rest. Alberto Zaccheroni’s Blue Samurai – well, given his presence perhaps ‘Azzurri Samurai’ is more appropriate – gave Italy an immense fright. Their pressing restricted the four-time world champions to long balls during the opening half-hour. And when chasing a late winner, Japan’s possession forced Italy to defend very deep, sometimes with all 11 behind the ball. They created ample chances and incredibly failed to score when Shinji Okazaki hit the post and Shinji Kagawa headed the follow-up on to the crossbar. Okazaki again hit the woodwork with two minutes remaining. This time the follow-up was put away, only for Maya Yoshida to be denied by the linesman’s flag. They deserved something from the game.

Andrea Pirlo took plaudits at the Maracanà Stadium on Sunday but was poor in Recife. Yet he was not alone. Fellow midfielders Aquilani and Riccardo Montolivo were anonymous. The full-backs struggled to stamp their authority on either side, giving the likes of Inter’s Yuto Nagatomo free reign. The defending centrally was at times shaky, noticeably for Kagawa’s goal.

Italy have complained of fatigue since the San Marino friendly in late May and it showed in the humidity. It’s a point Prandelli stressed post-game. He said the team had run out of gas once they went ahead. But is fatigue a valid excuse? Well, no. The Azzurri are not the only group of players at the Confederations Cup to have just finished a gruelling season. All teams are in the same boat. It seems to be an excuse used to mask a poor performance of late, including this and the Czech Republic qualifier. Conditions were humid for Japan too.

Zaccheroni’s team exit the tournament “with huge regrets.” Two losses mean they and El Tri are out. It also means Italy do not have to contend with a nailbiting final group match. Their match with hosts Brazil on Saturday is a shootout for first and to avoid Spain in the last four. De Rossi is suspended following a second yellow card, so Prandelli must make a midfield change. It’s a blow given how the Roma man played. Aside from that, the tactician needs to find a formula for a better showing to come close to Brazil, who have so far looked a step above the Azzurri. This was a win that left more questions than answers.

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Have your say...
last great Brazil side was 82 they changed their style in 94 to a European game with a holding midfielder which they have never played before they recognized they had to change their game to win it.to compare Brazil other than the team in the 70s and Portugal who haven't won a raffle to Spain is laughable. get down spec savers because i don't know what your seeing but its not very clear.im also entitled to my opinion its a democracy if you don't like the truth don't read it.
on the 25th June, 2013 at 8:26pm
im old enough to know that possession football is not one of their strong points counter attacking football is and that game is over with hence why they are awful against any team that can pass ten yards ive seen many dour italy performances where they have played rubbish and got lucky on a break .lol 82 and 90 ill give you that 2000 was decent what aboput 94 poor 98 poor 2002 poor i remember seeing loads of possession football in these tournaments Portugal never won anything in world football
on the 25th June, 2013 at 8:22pm
Paul when i wrote we played with spirit we were un lucky we played a gr8 team i was been FACETIOUS
on the 24th June, 2013 at 1:28am
Paul im not deluded read my blog more carefully ive done nothing but critisised the italian coach with his tactics and head in the clouds mentality
on the 24th June, 2013 at 1:23am
Paul with comments like that I suggest you do not include in your comments "us Italians". What negative comments. I do not know how old you are but I can tell you if you have watched Italian football (clubs and Country) that possession football has always been their game. Possession football in Italy has been around longer than Spain as ever been in WC and Euros. The Portuguese and Brazilians were playing this type many years before the Spanish. Maybe you should view Italy's football in 82'& 90'
on the 23rd June, 2013 at 7:09pm
mario your deluded this team is shocking rely to much on pirlo for a start and the defense is awful Ive said this before italy have to completely change their whole game,spain have moved the goal posts and other nations have to come up with a way of stopping them getting so much possession unfortunately for us Italian fans possession football is not Italy strong point in fact they are awful at it i think the 2006 world cup will be the last trophy for a long time .
on the 23rd June, 2013 at 1:50pm
Whats with italy feeling sorry and full of excucces the team is talking like we one of the bottem ranked nations , we played with spirit we were unlucky we played a great team what the hell we are italy we won 4 world cups man up italy we are second to no one start showing some back bone its great they are scoring but you still have to defend is this coach stupid please someone get the message through to him
on the 23rd June, 2013 at 2:50am
I said about Buffon earlier and sadly he did it again. He goes down too readily. His punches should be well away from danger but he makes saves that still put his side in danger. The free kick annoyed me. It was on his side and what was he going down for? Still a great keeper but age is catching up. What does Marchisio bring as you hardly see him in any game? I thot when Damianti started playing well he was taken off as he not been seen at all be4 then. R there no left footed left bks in Italy?
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 11:49pm
Painful. I think a draw would have been fair. I cant believe how bad we are at the back. I love buffon and defended him after japan game but today i cant. He was dire, all the goals he should have done better with. Very worrying. Im starting to think he is coming to the end. He is so slow. Heartbreaking to see . We must play 352 with spain.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 10:25pm
Is cp serious he doesnt acknowledge that italy cannont defend whats going on with this team cant they see whats happening he seems more worried but everything else except the defence wake up prandelli your team has more leaks the titanic
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 10:22pm
I dont know why....Italy will go guns blazing tonight. A kind of Italy-Germany style game. In the next blog we will talk about how Italy were great and back to form and how this is the real Italy. Yet if we draw spain in the next round Italy will close up. Be afraid. Sit back and ALLOW Spain to dominate. Why dont Italy do what Japan did and play some football. Were still talking about how great Japan were and how awful Italy were regardless of qualification

Italy need midfield domination 352!
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 6:55pm
We will lose to brazil today. It's an easy assumption. The midfield will struggle to provide any great scoring chances and the attack will lack pace. Doesn't really matter anyway since we're through already. 3-1 or 2-0 brazil. Just being realistic.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 6:06pm
Mustafaa, don't waste space highlighting people's typos! This is a casual comments section, not a dissertation submission!

433 tonight! Hopefully we can exploit the gaps that their full backs leave behind them!
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 4:12pm
I've never seen an Azzurri so incapable of defending than this side. Barzagli is not good enough and I cannot believe he is the best we have. On a positive note U21s look really good and a few might be in the senior team by next year.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 4:04pm
Marco, I just think that we are psychologically weak & too superstitious. All this nonsense about: fatigue, post/pre-season dips, second game syndrome, & biscotti-gate, drives me nuts. It really is pathetic & embarrassing! The whole squad & staff should man up! Perhaps we should hire a sports psychiatrist? Iap, well said & my compliments on your team! Based on what I saw the other night, Zico's prediction of you being a serious WC contender could well come to fruition.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 10:35am
"Grown up and focus on the sport"

This guy makes me laugh all the time.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 10:34am
@mario

The Azzurri are better at playing in an attacking style now. Gone are the days that the Azzurri can sit on leads.

What we saw against Japan was a team that didn't respect Japan or gave them the Italian interpretation of "respect" by not going at 100 per cent. Italy sat on leads against the Japanese and it nearly backfired. Italy could have gone for a two-goal cushion and the players were there to do so. Prandelli must go to 3-5-2 now to have that balance of style and substance.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 10:20am
I totally agree with tino baggio,apart from the Samurai amazing history i think the name gives the Japanese team a mark of respect.Its not racist at all and its a cool name.Blue Samurai even cooler.
on the 21st June, 2013 at 9:31pm
Why is everyone surprised Japan gave The Azzurri a tough game. With their energy & running they were always going to push Italy. Top this with they have an Italian coach who would have wanted to prove a point & the fact that they had nothing to lose as they had lost their first game and would always be underdogs. 2nd match syndrome will often hit most sides after 1 win as its the fact that without a defeat you are nearly there. A good side will often win when not playing their best. FORZA ITAlIA
on the 21st June, 2013 at 8:28pm
iap, congrats for qualifying first to WC 2014!
You have an impressive team, best of luck.

Mata Ne
on the 21st June, 2013 at 4:50pm
Giuseppe, having visited Japan and being fairly familiar with their culture I'd say it's highly unlikely someone write those comments ("The Pasta Eaters Slurp Ahead") but even if they did, I would consider it cynical among other things, but not racist.

Pasta lovers are a culinary and the samurai a fighting race. If it's within that context that you have a problem with, I'd listen, but I thought we are talking football here ...

Your thoughts about the Samba - Pasta gig? :)
on the 21st June, 2013 at 4:26pm
You are very correct with the italy 'secoond game syndrome' at tournaments. I think this is because the players seem to think that once they win the first game it's plain sailing through the rest of the group games! Forgetting of course that everyone else in the group is hungry for victory!
on the 21st June, 2013 at 4:18pm
A Japanese lurker here. Regarding physial condition -- Japan's Europe-based players traveled from Europe -> Japan -> Qatar -> Brazil in a span of a month, so Prandelli's excuse over Italian NT's physical condition points to a problem with his physio team. After all, the core of Japan NT's coach/training staff is Italian, too! At least on this occasion, Zaccheroni's crew seems to have handled its job better than Prandelli's. See you next year @ the WC!
on the 21st June, 2013 at 3:14pm
@Giuseppe Vittiglio

Extremely racist?. Not at all. People should be able to say things without people claiming what you just did. Grown up and focus on the sport.

Forza Azzuri and the blue samurai.
on the 21st June, 2013 at 1:33pm
should be interesting against Brazil with out Pirlo or De rossi
on the 21st June, 2013 at 11:15am
Giuseppe if someone called you a gladiator/centurion would you consider it racist? I wouldnt! But then it could depend on the manner in which it is delivered. I'm with Tino, the world has gone PC mad! The other day, I was accused of being racist on a forum, because I asked if Milan's Petagna was mixed race, (as facially he reminds me a little of the original Ronaldo)?!
on the 21st June, 2013 at 11:08am
Well the news is no DeRossi & Pirlo for Brazil's game!
Therefore, what Plan does CP has? What formation will he surprises us of this time!? Boy oh boy I am so excited to know & watch Z GAME... but for sure Z Lads will put a great perfo against Z Samba & it does not have anything to do w/CP mighty Formations... as he is clueless!
on the 21st June, 2013 at 8:02am
italy continue to disappoint me with there attitude and excuses when they play badly i think they should go back to what they no best park the team bus in front of their goal posts, ugly style as it is. they are unable to play nice attacking football consistantly their defence proves it we dont have the mentality or skill to play any other way but a least we were a respected team and a team to fear before this style of play we are becoming a joke
on the 21st June, 2013 at 2:44am
I wouldn't care too much to pull a Spain and see a 10-0 but would prefer Giovinco stop sticking his tongue out.
Gene Simmons and Del Piero was enough for my generation :)
on the 21st June, 2013 at 1:44am
Justice was not done as the better team didn't win and yes there are many concerns.
But it's one game gone bad and not the end of the world. I know it is frustrating but Italy fans should be used to this by now. Italy pulled more rabbits out of a hat that any other elite team.
In the end you have to question yourself : do you want more stars on that blue jersey, sometimes sacrificing the "beautiful" in the game, or exciting but underachieving football like Spain or Holland had for generations?
on the 21st June, 2013 at 1:35am

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