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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...
Clearly, the only lessons to take from this 'victory' are that all Juve players should be banned from the national team and Abbiati should be Italy's number 1.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 2:08pm
Shuliano, I wouldn't say that 4321 is useless. Like Dennis said, it is all about the players. Prandelli's squad is optimised for a 352 system. If we had two players like Honda & Kagawa playing in behind Balotelli, (in a 4321), we would be very dangerous. 352 should be our default system, with variants of a 433 as our plan b. We really need to unearth some creative attacking midfielders. Lets hope that Saponara, Tassi, Mastour, Bessa, Bellomo etc can fulfill their potential.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 2:04pm
(Countinued)Balotelli De Rossi and Verratti will be our future key players in the next tournament then hopefully prandelli switches back to a 3 man defence which all clubs in Italy are using give Bonnuci-Astori-Chielini a try Atleast to see if astori can live up to expectations, and SES and diamanti/giovinco can do much better playing off balotelli and create more chances, next game we need to rely on diamanti Marchisio and Montolivio to create the chances and please no maggio!!
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:53pm
Prandelli says they fought hard?
Italy came out in the second half with a flurry for about 10 minutes that led to 2 goals.
Once Italy had the obligatory 1 goal lead, they sat back and let Japan attack them.
Its not the mentality of this team that needs fixing..its the mentality of this country as a whole. Sit back and depend a counter attack starting with a long ball. What a joke!
This is where you have to give Spain credit. They know how to kill off a game. Italy will be thrashed in WC2014.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:51pm
Strummerman, Chiellini played well in Euro 2008. Had it not been for him & De Rossi, Buffon, Spain would have beaten us before the penalty shoot out. Other than Quags goal, nothing was good about 2010. As for Euro 2012, Chiellini went into that tournament with an injury and was never fully fit, playing at LB did him no favours either. He then picked up another injury in the final-thats why Fabregas greased him on the opening goal-and this ruined his pre-season.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:44pm
Could I just say Buffon is my all time fave goalkeeper but at 35 it seems his reflexes are not what they should be. Gone are the days when a goalie can be peaking in his 30s cos now they double up as sweepers and that cant be easy. The penalty incident was not a pen but Buffon should have done so much better.A younger man would have got to the ball sooner and done more with it instead of sliding like he did and giving the ref an option. He keeps flapping and balls are bouncing off him too often
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:38pm
In addition to Verratti, I would like to see Florenzi get in the senior squad asap. We have no pace in the middle of the pitch, he could give us some much needed zest. Vs Brazil, I'd like to see the following team. 352: Marchetti, Astori, Bonucci, Chiellini; Abate, Marchisio, Montolivo, Giaccherini, Di Sciglio; Balotelli, Giovinco. With Gio pulling to the left to take advantage of the space that Alves leaves behind him.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:35pm
Somebody teach Italy how to pass a ball. I really don't see what so hard about moving into space and passing the ball. The Japenese were passing and moving. Our guys were standing still. I don't know, if you look at a team like Spain, their style is not so complicated. The players are 10 yards apart and constantly moving into open space to accept a pass. If the ball is intercepted they swarm. Seems pretty easy to me. Japan played that system with ease and we just stood still ball watching.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:35pm
Not big on tactics and formations cos i feel players are what matters. Its clear that Bonucci n Barzagli are good in a 3 man defense so if you are gonna play either, it shd only be in that formation. I struggle to see how SES wouldnt perform better than Giacc in the position he is occupying for he is quicker and has better quality. Pirlo cannot keep playing every game for club n country so that has to stop.Disagree that Gio had a great game, perhaps not play with a right back at all like in 1990
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:26pm
I couldn't agree more with pretty much everyone underneath this comment, Aqualani Cerci and Maggio absolutely baffle me!! They all don't deserve the chance to wear the shirt again I would have consider bringing Crisito santon Noccerino ago in this tornament, prandelli now needs to adapt himself to the 3-5-2, cause to beat England and Germany as we did was something to brag about, and the youth team scored more goals than the senior team did against Spain! Lol the team now needs to build around
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:11pm
......creative players on the field to support Balloteli. Insigne, Giovinco, SES, Cassano, Rossi all need to be in the squad and their skill or pace needs to be exploited as well as from ranged passing from deep.

Forget WC06, Euro2012, Mexico game. Last night we were a one trick Pony that got lucky. Its not quite time take him out to the barn and give him both barrels, but it is time he went out to pasture.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:11pm
If last night proved anything, it is that we are well on our way to the same results we got in S. Africa. Our fitness levels are horrible, we have no formation that works other than the 352. Pirlo will be more of a spectator than a player next year. Verratti and Insigne have not peaked yet nor do they have the necessary experience to take over and our back line is now officially the slowest moving defense that i have seen in the past 2 years.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:09pm
I think we can say that "Life without Pirlo" is upon us. When he is on it , he is unplayable. When he is not he is a liability. He must have lost the ball 5 or six times in dangerous situations last night.
If we want to use a quarterback, then for me, it has to be Verrati. We cannot risk a 35 year old in serious humidity. We also need a plan B mid game. Prandelli was brave to hook Aquilani after 30 mins and Giovinco had a decent game comparatively, but we should have more creative players.....
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:01pm
Fitness is a big problem, but I dont see how we are any different to any of the other teams. This needs further analysis clearly. I agree Daniel I thought Mario and De rossi where very good. I just cant understand why cesare wont play 352 when it worked so well against spain in first game of euros. Everyone sees it but him. We have a lot to sort out before next summer or face a very early exit. De Rossi out of brazil game is a big loss. Cassano missing is a big loss, we miss his creativity.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 1:00pm
It was a gruesome game, Italy should have lost. However, the pros came through in the end as they do in Seria A even when they don't play well. Our defence was atrocious especiallly Chiellini. Has he ever played well in a tournament? I think Bonucci is a better central back. De Sciglio had a weak match. Our midfield was as slow as hell. Can we bring in Candreva, Diamanti, Cerci, Bonucci, the pharoah against Brazil? Time for a rest. Like to see Balo Giovinco, the pharoah play together.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:59pm
Italy were poor but showed what they could do when needed to step up a gear. Maggio cannot defend well in a back 4 but try him in a 352 formation and watch what he can do! Against Brazil let's get some fresh legs on the pitch including the keeper and see what happens because if they face Spain they are going to chasing a the ball a lot! Oh and Marchisio is pants! Never saw him for 2 games over than the pass to giovinco!
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:51pm
We learn't alot of lessons from this game! Firstly Italy seriously need to acclimatise to the conditions in Brazil or they needn't bother showing up next summer... it won't get any cooler! Aquilaini should never play for La Nazionale again and despite displaying one of the worst performances I have ever seen from them, they sure have alot of grit and togetherness, which is the only positive to come out of the game.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:50pm
Prandelli needs to sort this mess out and stop blaming fatique and pitches and sunshine; to much sun/not enough sun, its all excuses and it has to stop, we played under the same conditions as japan and they seemed fine! I'm sick of lack luster lazy players, they earn in a week what we earn in 5years, so listening to 'tired/fatiqued/to hot/to cold is ridiculous and an insult. We were given a run around by japan I don't care who their manager is its unacceptable. Play with pride or stay at home!
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:37pm
I am afraid of Azzurri because of CP!!!
The players are professional and responsible enough to do the job right.
Veratti must join Azzurri for next year WC.
352 must be the no. 1 formation.
Aquilani bye bye.
Bring on a number of the youths to enhance the quality of Azzurri.
Stop whining; humidity! opponent had more rest day!
4321 is useless and Azzurri must have 2 attackers.
Seriously, God help Azzurri under CP!!!!!
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:37pm
You will see a different Azzurri against Brazil!
Indeed, I am sure of it.
Prandelli is clueless; always adapting to new formation! Why does not he enforce 1 most suitable formation and 1 as alternative according to availability of players!! It is wise to KNOW that part of Azzurri inconsistency is Mr. Prandelli wide choice of formations!!! And most of all, when opponents know the key to lock down most of Azzurri creativity is by shutting down Pirlo why on earth does CP has plan B?
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:31pm
Prandelli must mind a plan B. Teams who have the energy and the game go to mark Pirlo out of the game. They go into game with this strategy and it stifles our play. Also it shows that Pirlo can not be expected to play every game.

It would have been brave to take Pirlo off (still would have taken Aquilani off aswell) and change the midfield formation. This would test the opposition and see if they had a plan B.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:12pm
Frighteningly bad. Prandelli has been in charge for a few years now, I have yet to see a full proof team, a set system and a style of play. Excuses are boring now, we full short in midfield, defence with barzagli is just horrendous, and please explain to me why aquilani is even in this squad let alone being played upfront. Giaccarini is average at best, maggio is beyond words. Pirlo should be used to ad variety NOT to be built around so that when he's marked we are finished and uncompetitive.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 12:10pm
Sam, the penalty that Buffon conceded was harsh, but I thought that he had a shaky game, his handling was poor & he looked heavy when diving. The defending in front of him didn't help. De Rossi put in a real skippers performance last night & along with Balotelli was our best player. Sadly, for most of us, Prandelli doesn't look like he will switch from a back 4. IMO all our full backs look more like wing backs. Perhaps we should look to hire some Japanese fitness coaches?
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:56am
I am more tempted by 3-5-2 with the 3 Juve defenders and Maggio/Abate and De Sciglio/Giaccherini at wing back. We also need two strikers. Giovinco was excellent when he came on and there should be at least scope to introduce SES. I think it's worth trying against Brazil. We are already qualified and will have to play Spain at some point whether it be the semis or the final. And as someone said below we might have a better chance of not getting hammered with 3-5-2.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:49am
..cont.) Pirlo was very tired, obvious to everyone - as were a bunch of players.
Give El Sharaway a run, give Diamanti a run. Whether we think some these players are worthy, Prandelli does - that's why he picked them. Freshen it up - try something out - this is NOT the WC2014, it's a friendly tournament - use it as such, and we'll see what might come out of it. A surprise could be in waiting, good or bad, at least he'll know more. Be a little more brave Prandelli, per l'amore di dio!
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:48am
It's time Prandelli learnt to rest some players, especially now the match against Brazil, while important, doesn't stop qualification for the semi. The Euro2012 final was a prime example, he fielded a tired and injured team as lambs to the slaughter for Spain. Surely this time, he was players training just as hard as his 'best' starting 11 that deserve a run. Sure, they risk losing against Brazil, but fresh legs, and some faith in the squad as a whole is needed. Reward the frindge players (cont.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:45am
Aquilani and Maggio shouldn't be starting. Maggio doesn't know how to defend and Abate is a far better. Aquilani is useless. Pirlo is great but Italy must have a plan B, when he is tightly marked and a team presses deep into their half just like Bayern did to Juve in the CL. Italy does not have the killer instinct strikers of yesteryear so the possesion football suffers with no outcome. Balotelli for all the pomp doesn't have that killer instinct he is no Bobo Vieri. The defense is very worrying
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:43am
Well said Maldini's Heir! The FIGC should investigate our fitness coaching systems for clubs & country. Our players look so sluggish by the seasons end & pick up so many niggling injuries. Last year we faded badly in the 2nd halves vs Spain, Croatia & were dead on our feet in the final. The same is happening against this season. The Spaniards have played many more games than us but still look fresh. If our sides kept the ball better this would help, Japan passed us to death.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:41am
Cannot agree more about missing Cassano's vision and ability to link midfield and attack. Even when Giaccherini plays well, he is workmanlike in a role that demands a creative spark. It's not his fault, he's just not that kind of player. Would like to see Diamanti given the slot for a game. He works hard and has real talent. Great shot, good passing, crazy hair.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:14am
I don't rate Aquilani but playing him as a forward is cruel.Y not try Candreva there? When will CP learn that Maggio is substd? Why do Italian managers always do this? If Italy takes this squad to the wc, I won;t be surprised to see them go out in group stage such is their lack of individual quality.They made Japan look like Spain. To substitute a player when facing a free kick is amateurish but to play players out of position is criminal. At 35 I am starting to worry about Buffon's reflexes.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 11:02am

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