A late winner from Sebastian Giovinco saw Italy edge Japan 4-3 in an event-filled encounter at the Confederations Cup in Recife. The result of a match that swung back and forth throughout is enough to take Italy through the semifinals of the competition, despite having one match of Group A still to play. Japan, meanwhile, are already out, having lost both games. Mexico also face elimination after their defeat earlier in the day to Brazil.
While Japan may be on their way home at the earliest opportunity, they can take some solace from having taken part in what will quite possibly go down as the match of the tournament. The Asian champions had taken a 2-0 lead before Italy came back to lead 3-2. Japan then looked good for at least a point having gotten back level and then pushing for a winner. But Juventus forward Giovinco tapped home for his first goal for his country with four minutes to play.
Needing at least a point to stay alive following their opening defeat to Brazil, Japan begun far the better of the two sides. There was plenty of fortune about the goal that gave them the lead after 21 minutes, though, as Ginaluigi Buffon was adjudged to have brought down Shiji Okazaki, despite clearly having won the ball. Keiusuke Honda made no mistake in converting the spot kick. And just over 10 minutes later Japan’s lead was doubled after a fine finish from Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa.
But Italy, despite looking jaded, came back in stunning fashion. First they got a crucial goal back before the break courtesy of a strong header from Daniele De Rossi off of Andrea Pirlo’s corner. Then five minutes after the break, poor defending from Maya Yoshida allowed Emanuele Giaccherini to put in a low cross that Atsuto Uchida diverted into his own net. Incredibly, just two minutes later Cesare Prandelli’s side were in front. Perhaps the referee was evening up the score as he awarded his second soft penalty of the match this time for an incredibly harsh handball against Makobi Hasebe. Mario Balotelli duly converted to maintain his perfect record from the spot.
That was far from the end of the action. Japan struck back with a fine near-post header from Okazaki from Yasuhito Endo’s corner. And Japan looked the team more likely to get the win as they continued to pour forward and incredibly in one attack hit both the post and the crossbar.
But perhaps the naivety of the Samurai Blue was revealed as they conceded a late sucker punch when De Rossi was played just onside down the right of the box and his fine squared ball across the six-yard box was converted by Giovinco.
Italy now face Brazil with both teams already guaranteed to advance, while Japan take on Mexico with only pride at stake.