Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Japan look to avoid early exit, Italy eye semi-finals

AFP, RECIFE, Brazil

Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo, right, battles for the ball with Brazil’s Hulk in their FIFA Confederations Cup match in Brasilia, Brazil, on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

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

A win for Italy, on the heels of Sunday’s success over Olympic champions Mexico should propel the Azzurri into the semi-finals, while also ending the Blue Samurais’ 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 who have already booked their tickets for next summer’s jamboree.

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

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

“What we must not do is repeat the mistakes of the Brazil game, but don’t judge us on that game,” Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo said.

Defender Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for Serie A’s Inter, 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 Italy join Brazil on three points.

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

Balotelli is already carrying a needless booking into the match having taken off his shirt after his goal on Sunday and Nagatomo says that “while he is very quick and physical, we must mark him tightly and above all get under his skin.”

“He is always in the thick of things, but he has a short fuse. It will be a mental battle for him,” he said.

Japan arrived in Recife from Brasilia with no injuries to report. Keisuke Honda got over a hip problem that saw him miss a Saturday training session and skipper Makoto Hasebe shook off a sore ankle.

Italy enjoyed a beach volleyball session after their victory over Mexico, although Balotelli, criticized 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 Mexico, who had widely been seen as key rivals for second place in Group A.

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

“We have to build on what we did against the Mexicans and another win now will set us up for the semi-finals,” Chiellini added.

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