When Italy and Japan face off against one another on Wednesday, it will be the first time they have gone head to head in over a decade. The last time these two met was 2001, but that was only a friendly. Now the stakes are higher for both clubs and neither will want to suffer a letdown in the second round of Confederations Cup play. Let's see where the value lies.
Same Old Story?
When it comes to international football, Japan come across the same challenges again and again. They have great technical skill and produce some exciting chances, but the finish is lacking. So what do they have to do in order to secure a better result?
To begin with, they need to play much more aggressively than they did agianst Brazil. Unfortunately for Japan, they don't face a lot of tough competition when they go through qualifying matches. When they took the pitch against Brazil, they suffered from the shock and awe treatment. As a result, they tried to play much more defensively than they usually do and were overwhelmed in a 3-0 defeat.
They've vowed to come out with a stronger game plan against Italy, but will it matter? To start with, Makoto Hasebe will be given the unenviable task of disrupting Pirlo and reducing his space as much as possible. Even at his best, that is a daunting assignment. Pirlo is too crafty and experienced to allow that to happen, so Japan will need significant help from other areas.
There is some talk that Ryoichi Maeda will shift up front, while Shinji Okazaki will go outside, but Italy are a well organized squad and sound defensively. Perhaps the extra day rest will be of some benefit for this Japanese side, but it might be too little too late when the second half rolls around.
The New Italy?
For years, Italy relied heavily on the aforementioned structure of defensive organization to win games, but in recent years they have added a much more offensively aggresive style to their play. With young blood up front, led by Mario Balotelli, there is an adventure to this team that hasn't always been there before. This presents a new dynamic to contend with and Japan might have trouble figuring out what strategy to deploy.
One aspect that Italy will want to improve in this match is their overal cohesive play. Against Mexico, they were able to get by on brilliant individual efforts by Balotelli and Pirlo, but they cannot afford to get complacent against a lesser Japan team that is desperate for a win.
The key motivational factor driving Italy will be what lies ahead. If they can top the group, they'll be able to avoid a semi-final showdown with Spain. Italy has earned a lot of respect in the betting markets due to their Euro 2012 runner-up status, but they are still not regarded in the same breath as Brazil or Spain. For us, that provides some value. I expect Italy to take full advantage of Japan's change of tactics and come away with another solid victory.
Prediction: Italy ML (-133).