x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Confederations Cup: Italy beat Japan to book semi-final spot

Coach Cesare Prandelli pleased after Azzurri come from behind to win 4-3 at Recife.

It was a heartbreaking outcome for Shinji Kagawa's Japan after their defeat to Italy. Sebastiao Moreira / EPA
It was a heartbreaking outcome for Shinji Kagawa's Japan after their defeat to Italy. Sebastiao Moreira / EPA

Italy 4 Japan 3

Man of the match: Giovinco

RECIFE, Brazil // One Italian rejoiced, another lamented as the Azzurri reached the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup on Wednesday after an exhilarating 4-3 win over battling Japan.

For Cesare Prandelli, there was the feeling of a job done not necessarily well in defensive terms at least, but he was sufficiently moved to praise his team's battling qualities after they came back from the brink after going two goals down in the opening 33 minutes.

For compatriot Alberto Zaccheroni, there were mixed feelings – he saluted the fightback by the land of his birth yet, cast in this drama as the coach of the Blue Samurai, he also felt Japan's pain after they came so close to an upset.

Prandelli had waged psychological warfare beforehand by insisting that the Japanese could be seen as favourites having had an extra day to prepare, though the Asian champions still do not possess the pedigree of four world titles.

In the event, it was nearly honours even until substitute Sebastian Giovinco pounced to net the dramatic winner four minutes from time.

"We had to go for the win as we had had no points on the board," said Zaccheroni, whose men raced into a 2-0 lead through Keisuke Honda's penalty and a second from Shinji Kagawa.

After Italy reined them in to deny the Japanese, runners up in 2001, a chance of reaching the semis, Zaccheroni said that even in defeat "this tournament has been useful for us to become a more mature and internationally experienced team.

"The difference in international experience was clear but I do not think we were inferior.

"The game was exciting – I was thinking back to the 4-3 1970 World Cup semi between Italy and Germany [which the Italians also won before going on to lose to Brazil]. That is a memory that stays with you as an Italian.

"I am pleased that our players created so many opportunities. I feel sorry for my players but I feel that the team that won this game was the one that deserved it most. I hope Italy now wins the Cup."

Prandelli said the extra rest day for the Japanese had given them an advantage.

"The players need a bit more time to recover if they are to put on a good show and Brazil is a very hot country.

"We certainly never gave up chasing to get back into it though. And when they levelled at 3-3 we still had enough drive to go and get the winner."

Referring to his early withdrawal of Alberto Aquilani he said: "It was not Aquilani's fault, it was tactical. I had to replace him as I needed a extra forward. We were playing too deep and not putting enough pressure on and then there were some individual errors and the defence started creaking."

"With [Emanuele] Giaccherini supporting Mario Balotelli more, I think with that change we started to play better."

His other key throw of the dice in introducing Juventus forward Giovinco also paid a handsome dividend as the striker scored the winner to settle a tumultuous affair.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE