x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Japan are a work in progress

Against Italy, Asia champions Japan are trying to avoid an early exit at Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Yuto Nagatomo, left, and the Japan defence will have their hands full with Italy’s Mario Balotelli, who will be a focal point on Wednesday. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photoiko
Yuto Nagatomo, left, and the Japan defence will have their hands full with Italy’s Mario Balotelli, who will be a focal point on Wednesday. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photoiko

RECIFE // The task facing both Asian champions Japan and three-time world champions Italy is clear cut in Recife at the Confederations Cup.

An Italian win, on the heels of Sunday's success over Olympic champions Mexico, should propel the Azzurri into the semi-finals, while also ending the Blue Samurai's interest in this summer's event.

The pressure is off Japan to a large extent in that, aside from World Cup and Confederations Cup hosts Brazil they are the only side competing here who have already booked their tickets for next summer's showpiece.

In going down 3-0 to the Brazilians in the opening match, Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan side showed the effects of a long, yet successful, qualifying World Cup campaign – they only arrived 72 hours after seeing off Iraq in Doha.

They also showed – as Zaccheroni tacitly admitted – that they are at this stage a work in progress with 12 months to plan next year's assault.

"What we must not do is repeat the mistakes of the Brazil game," said midfielder Yasuhito Endo. "But don't judge us on that game."

Defender Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for Italian Serie A side Inter Milan, said he and his teammates would have to get to grips with Mario Balotelli, who proved a handful for Mexico and who scored the winner in that game to see the Italians join Brazil on three points.

And Nagatomo said slyly that he figures there is one way to do so: niggle the temperamental striker.

Balotelli is already carrying a needless booking into the match having taken off his shirt in celebration after his goal on Sunday.

"While he is very quick and physical we must mark him tightly and above all get under his skin," Nagatomo said. "He is always in the thick of things but has a short fuse. It will be a mental battle for him."

Italy enjoyed a beach volleyball session after their win over Mexico although Balotelli, criticised by coach Cesare Prandelli for his booking, did not show up.

Defender Giorgio Chiellini and midfielder Riccardo Montolivo were both buoyed by the win over the Mexicans, who had widely been seen as key rivals for second spot in Group A.

"We tried a few things and were very solid and it was a good performance against Mexico," said Montolivo.

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