Italy is well-placed in the Confederations Cup after their win over Mexico, but they need to beat Japan Wednesday to lighten the weight on their backs ahead of a final group game with mighty Brazil.
Hosts Brazil currently top the standings in Group A with three points from an opening 3-0 over Japan. Italy also has three after beating Mexico 2-1.
The match against Italy has an all-or-nothing feel to it for the Asian champions, who performed well below their own expectations against Brazil. An early goal from Neymar appeared to do away with any planning the usually rocky Japanese side might have done, and they never stood a chance in the defeat against the home team.
“I’m sure we can do better in the next match,” Japan’s Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni said then.
His men will have a chance to prove that at the Arena Pernambuco, in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Recife. However, it is unlikely to be easy.
Zaccheroni, who coached many Italian clubs including Milan, Inter and Juventus before moving abroad to Japan in 2010, knows all there is to know about the Azzurri.
“Zaccheroni knows us very well and I’m sure he will be laying some traps for us. Beside, he will have the advantage of having had an extra day of rest,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who describes Zaccheroni as “a true friend” as well as a great coach.
And yet it is bound to take more than just knowledge to stop the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli, as Mexico realised on Sunday.
“We want to confirm against Japan the level we showed against Mexico, and perhaps do even better,” captain Gianluigi Buffon said.
The Azzurri are likely to remain cautious. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, which they played as reigning world champions, they won their first match against the United States but then lost to Egypt and Brazil to crash out in the first round. However, Buffon thinks things have changed.
“This is a Nazionale that is on the rise, that is maturing. That is a major difference compared to back then,” he said.
The last match between Italy and Japan — the only team to have qualified so far for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — dates back to 2001, and it ended in a 1—1 draw. Japan have grown a lot since then, but a lot remains to be done, as they confirm whenever they clash against the world’s top teams.
Defender Yuto Nagatomo knows Italy from up—close, although none of his team—mates at foreigner—dominated Inter Milan are part of the Squadra Azzurra’s Confed Cup squad. He is also aware that defeat Wednesday could send them home after the first round, but remains positive.
“We expect to win the next match!” Nagatomo said in very good Italian.
His broad smile, however, leaves some room for doubt as to whether he actually believes it.
Italy are playing the Confederations Cup as runners—up in the Euro 2012, since Spain qualified as world champions, but they are very motivated to do well in the tournament.
“Finishing among the top four would not be a success. That is our goal, but success is when you win,” Buffon stressed.
A defeat against Japan, of course, would leave Pirlo, Buffon and company in need of a win against Brazil Saturday in Salvador to reach the semi-finals, so it is likely that they would rather do their homework against the Asian champions.
Keywords: Confederations Cup